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Falling Upward: The Second Half of Life
Falling Upward: The Second Half of Life

A Breakthrough in Consciousness

Monday, November 13, 2023

Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio describes spiritual maturation as a growth in consciousness and a radical surrender into divine love.

The first half of our lives is spent building an identity, establishing our security, defining our boundaries, creating a zone of safety, and having controllable order. We can liken this first stage of life to operating on lower levels of consciousness. Many religious people get stuck on the level of mythic consciousness, with a narrow, ethnocentric, law-and-order mentality. God is a superior being outside oneself, and fidelity to God means abiding by the laws of religion and church. Wholeness means nothing more than obeying the rules. Looking for one’s center always outside oneself inculcates a basic sense of unworthiness, distrust of self, and subservience to those “better,” “more qualified,” or “superior” to counsel and guide.

What creates a breakthrough in consciousness, whereby authentic growth shifts from attention to authority outside ourselves to the inner law of the heart, is not simply growing old but, rather, it is growing inward in freedom: “If you make my Word your home,” Jesus said, “you will learn the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). Freedom requires a breakthrough into unitive consciousness, a radical surrender and complete letting go, trusting the spiritual impulses of life….

Life still breaks down as matter weakens and expectations fail, but the one who lives on the level of integrated consciousness lives in moments of failure or disruption with a lightness of spirit, a sense of openness to divine love, which appears like light shining through the cracks of darkness. Suffering is where divine love radiates in hidden darkness, where God is fully human; the power of life itself in the midst of disruption. We [live into our divine nature] when we cling to this power of life, finding that this power within liberates us beyond the threat of death because “fear is driven out by perfect love” (1 John 4:18). Living into our divine nature is the source of our freedom and happiness.

We cannot know this deeper divine reality if we live only on levels of mediocrity and self-preservation. We are created out of love and are made to energize the world in love…. Aging can be either a life of nostalgia or a wholehearted engagement with the future. It is a disruptive process as things break down, friends and pets die, houses are sold, and memories of the past haunt the present. Months melt into years, and we find ourselves in the flow of life.

Growing inward by falling upward means learning from our mistakes…. Even if the felt experience of life dims, we are invited to let go and surrender to the wild love of God, living into the endless vitality of life itself. Letting go into God is coming home to our true selves, where we discover that our root reality is infinite divine love, and in love, we are eternally free.


Ilia Delio, “Falling Inward, Falling Upward: God, Self, and the Liberation of Love,” Oneing 11, no. 2, Falling Upward (Fall 2023): 49–50. Available in print and PDF download.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Loïs Mailou Jones, Eglise Saint Joseph (detail), 1954, oil on canvas. Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction (detail), 1959, oil on canvas. Loïs Mailou Jones, Shapes and Colors (detail), 1958, watercolor on paper. Click here to enlarge image.

As we journey through life, we begin to apply the colors of our experience with more depth, expansiveness and skill.

Story from Our Community:  

At 82 years old, I find myself at the best time of my life. My wife and I are in great health and surrounded by loving friends and a large family of 5 children and 13 grandchildren. It’s been a road of transformation to arrive at our current state of peace. I have lost two adult children along the way, including one to suicide. The experience brought me the most pain I have ever suffered. I knew my pain had great energy, so I asked God to use it for my healing. Richard says that great suffering and great love are pathways to transformation—that was true for me. So, as I look at the troubled state of the world, my faith tells me that, “this too will pass.” I am eternally grateful for the work of Richard Rohr and the CAC staff and contributors. May our world continue its healing. —Nolan G.

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