Two Halves of Life: Week 1
In Need of Guidance
Thursday, June 16, 2016
There’s a somewhat overlooked passage in the middle of Romans where Paul says, “The only thing that counts is not what human beings want or try to do [that’s the first half of life], but the mercy of God [that’s the second half of life]” (9:16). But you only realize this is true in the second half of life. You had to do the wanting and the trying and the achieving and the self-promoting and the accomplishing. The first half of life is all about some kind of performance principle. And it seems that it must be this way. You have to do it wrong before you know what right might be.
In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. I remember going home to Kansas after my father had just retired at age sixty-five. For thirty-six years he had painted trains for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Daddy grew up very poor during the Depression and the dust storms of western Kansas. In his generation, of course, a job was something you valued deeply; and once you got it, you weren’t going to lose it. He never missed a day of work in all those years. He turned on the lights every morning, they told us.
After he retired, my father cried in my arms and said, “I don’t know who I am now. I don’t know who I am. . . . Pray with me, pray with me.” Here I was a grown up man, a priest, supposed to be strong for my father. I didn’t know how to do it. I guess I said the appropriate priestly words. But I didn’t know how to guide him into the second half of life, and he was begging for a guide.
The church wasn’t much of a guide in such things. The common sermon was on the evil of abortion. My mom would come home in her 70s and say, “Why does the priest keep telling us the same thing? I can’t have babies anymore!” That’s what happens when the Church doesn’t grow up or support its growing members. We focus on something that’s quantifiable and seemingly clear and has no subtlety to it. It’s always black and white thinking, usually about individual body-based sins. We know who the sinners are and we know who the saints are, and we don’t have to struggle with the mixed blessing that every human being is. We’re all mixed blessings and partly sinners, and we always will be. But this wisdom only comes later, when you’ve learned to listen to the different voices that guide you in the second half of life.
These deeper voices will sound like risk, trust, surrender, uncommon sense, destiny, love. They will be the voices of an intimate stranger, a voice that’s from somewhere else, and yet it’s my deepest self at the same time. It’s the still small voice that the prophet Elijah slowly but surely learned to hear (see 1 Kings 19).
Gateway to Silence:
Guide me on the further journey.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Franciscan Media: 2004), disc 2 (CD); and