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Center for Action and Contemplation

Falling into Mercy and Letting Go of Fear

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Two Halves of Life: Week 2

Falling into Mercy
Thursday, June 23, 2016

The transition to the second half of life moves you from either/or thinking to both/and thinking, the ability to live with paradox. You no longer think in terms of win/lose, but win/win instead. It is a completely different mind. In order for this alternative consciousness to become your primary way of thinking, you have to experience something that forces either/or thinking to fall apart. Perhaps you hate homosexuality and then you meet a real, wonderful homosexual. Or your son comes home and tells you he is getting a divorce. Or you meet a Muslim who is more loving than most of your Christian friends.

Your first reaction is a struggle: “What do I do now? I don’t like this. I can’t deal with this. I want to go back to my familiar and habitual world.” You know your lesbian daughter is good and you love her and don’t want to reject her. So you ask your minister, “What will I do?” Inside such “liminal space” is where real change happens, where your self-serving little dualisms have to fall apart. It might be called growing up.

Jesus kept telling his Jewish listeners about good, holy non-Jews, like the Samaritan man and the Syro-Phoenician woman. But even his disciples struggled to accept that the outsider could be accepted. If you’re stuck in the first half of life, with your explanation about why you’re the best, you will hold on strongly because it’s all you have, and change always feels like dying. Often the only thing that can break down your natural egocentricity is discovering that the qualities you hate in others are actually within you. You’re not so moral after all. You’ve imagined doing “bad” things; and if you could get away with it, you know you’d do it. The only reason you don’t is because you’re afraid. Fear is not enlightenment. Fear is not the new transformed state of the risen Christ that we’ve been promised. Fear keeps you inside of a false order and will not allow any reordering.

Unless you somehow “weep” over your own phoniness, hypocrisy, and woundedness, you probably will not let go of the first half of life. The gift of tears helps you embrace the mystery of paradox, of that which can’t be fixed, which can’t be made right, which can’t be controlled, and which doesn’t make sense. But if you don’t allow this needed disappointment to well up within you (good guilt), if you surround yourself with your orthodoxies and your certitudes and your belief that you’re the best, frankly, you will stay in the first half of life forever and never fall into the Great Mercy. Many religious people never allow themselves to “fall,” while many sinners fall and rise again.

Gateway to Silence:
Take up your cross and follow me.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adult Christianity and How to Get There (CAC: 2004), disc 1 (CD, MP3 download).

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