Growing in Love’s Likeness
Growing into Belonging
Thursday, March 29, 2018
As we grow spiritually, we discover that we are not as separate as we thought we were. Separation from God, self, and others is a deep and tragic illusion. As we grow into deeper connection and union, the things that once brought meaning and happiness to our small self no longer satisfy us. We tried to create artificial fullness through many kinds of addictive behavior, but still feel empty and nothing, if we are honest. We need much more nutritious food to feed our Bigger Self. Mere entertainments, time-fillers, diversions, and distractions will no longer work.
At the more mature stages of life, we are able to allow the painful and the formerly excluded parts to gradually belong within a growing, unified field. This shows itself as a foundational compassion, especially toward all things different from us and the many beings who “never had a chance.” If you have forgiven yourself for being imperfect, you can now do it for everybody else, too. If you have not forgiven yourself, I am afraid you will likely pass on your sadness, absurdity, judgment, and futility to others. “What goes around comes around.”
Many who are judgmental and unforgiving seem to have missed out on the joy and clarity of the first childhood containment, perhaps avoided the suffering of the mid-life complexity, and thus missed out on the great freedom and magnanimity of the second half of life. We need to hold together all the stages of life. For some strange, wonderful reason, it all becomes quite “simple” as we approach our later years. The great irony is that we must go through a lot of complexity and disorder (another word for necessary suffering) to return to the second simplicity. There is no nonstop flight from first to second naiveté, from initial order to resurrection. We must go through the pain of disorder to grow up and switch our loyalties from self to God. Most people just try to maintain their initial “order” at all costs, even if it is killing them.
As we grow in wisdom, we realize that everything belongs and everything can be received. We see that life and death are not opposites. They do not cancel one another out; neither do goodness and badness. A radical, almost nonsensical “okayness” characterizes the mature believer, which is why they are often called “holy fools.” These wise ones do not have to deny, dismiss, defy, or ignore reality anymore. What is, is gradually okay (which does not mean you do not work for justice and truth, but this must be accompanied by a primal yes!). What is, is still the greatest of teachers. At the bottom of all reality is always a deep abiding goodness, or what Merton called “the hidden wholeness.” 
 Thomas Merton, “Hagia Sophia,” Ramparts Magazine (March 1963), 66. Also see In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, ed. Lynn R. Szabo (New Directions: 2005).
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 113-115;
Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 55-56, 61; and
How Do We Get Everything to Belong? disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, MP3 download.