Two Halves of Life: Week 2
Human Development in Scripture
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
It is helpful for us to know about the whole arc of life and where it is tending and leading. Walter Brueggemann, one of my favorite scripture scholars, brilliantly connected the development of the Hebrew Scriptures with the development of human consciousness.
Brueggemann says there are three major parts of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature. The Torah, or the first five books, corresponds to the first half of life. This is the period in which the people of Israel were given their identity through law, tradition, structure, certitude, group ritual, clarity, and chosenness. As individuals, we each must begin with some clear structure and predictability for normal healthy development (a la Maria Montessori). That’s what parents are giving their little ones—containment, security, safety, specialness. Ideally, you first learn you are beloved by being mirrored in the loving gaze of your parents and those around you. You realize you are special and life is good—and thus you feel “safe.”
The second major section of the Hebrew Scriptures is called the Prophets. This introduces the necessary suffering, “stumbling stones,” and failures that initiate you into the second half of life. Prophetic thinking is the capacity for healthy self-criticism, the ability to recognize your own dark side, as the prophets did for Israel. Without failure, suffering, and shadowboxing, most people (and most of religion) never move beyond narcissism and tribal thinking (egoism extended to the group). This has been most of human history up to now, which is why war has been the norm. But healthy self-criticism helps you realize you are not that good and neither is your group. It begins to break down either/or, dualistic thinking as you realize all things are both good and bad. This makes all idolatry, and all the delusions that go with it, impossible.
My mother could give me prophetic criticism and discipline me and it didn’t hurt me in the least because she gave me all the loving and kissing and holding in advance. There was something there to absorb it. I knew the beloved status first of all, and because of that I could take being criticized and told I wasn’t the center of the world.
If the psyche moves in normal sequence, the leaven of self-criticism, added to the certainty of your own specialness, will allow you to move to the third section of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Wisdom Literature (many of the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and the Book of Job). Here you discover the language of mystery and paradox. This is the second half of life. You are strong enough now to hold together contradictions, even in yourself, even in others. And you can do so with compassion, forgiveness, patience, and tolerance. You realize that your chosenness is for the sake of letting others know they are chosen too. You have moved from the Torah’s exclusivity and “separation as holiness” to inclusivity and allowing everything to belong. We don’t move toward the second half of life until we’ve gone through the first half and the transition period. The best sequence, therefore, is order-disorder-reorder. And you must go through disorder or there is no reorder! No exceptions. Paul calls this “the foolishness of the cross” (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
Gateway to Silence:
Take up your cross and follow me.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), vii;
A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Franciscan Media: 2004), disc 2 (CD).