As one year ends and another begins, the pundits package the highlights of the past and out of that attempt to project something of what lies ahead. It’s as if time stands still for a brief moment while we catch our breath for reflection, a search for some meaning.
For people of faith, though, time is constant, each event in our lives a “teachable moment.” Events, for us, just don’t happen, but have a greater purpose, have within them messages of hope, or instruction, sometimes mystery. They have a spiritual dimension, which, when paid attention to, are more than just experiences with consequences. Even as we “peer though the glass darkly,” as the Apostle Paul warned, we are also “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” as to give place to a “hope lying within.”
Such a perception of time comes to those of us perhaps more clearly in the second half of life, as the Franciscan mystic Richard Rohr points out in his most recent book Falling Upward. Rohr uses the metaphor of a “container” to describe spirituality in the two halves of life. The first half is preoccupied with building that container that centre around the questions of “what makes me significant?” and “How can I support myself” and “Who will go with me?”
The task of the second half of life, he submits, is “quite simply, to find the actual contents that the container is meant to hold and deliver.” In the first half of life, success, security, and containment—“looking good” to ourselves and others—are almost the only questions.
In the second half of the journey, we are more contemplative, less judgmental, placing higher value on simplicity, a time when we reckon with our anxieties and doubts, engaging in something he calls a “bright sadness,” and an increased awareness of our “shadow” selves.
In our western society, he says, a preoccupation at all levels of what Maslow has labelled a “hierarchy of needs” has made us an adolescent culture of persons who never traverse past the first journey. Most of the energy is devoted to security issues, enormously high military budgets, for instance, and the sustaining of a good economy. Similarly, religions need to make truth claims that are absolutely absolute—“and we want them for just that—because they are absolute!”
“This feels right and necessary at this early stage, despite any talk of Biblical ‘faith’ or trust, which can only be comprehended later. Human life is about more than building boundaries, protecting identities, creating tribes and teaching impulse control.” He quotes Jesus as saying “Why do you ask, what am I to eat? What am I to wear? Is not life not so much more than food? Is life not so much more than clothing?” (Luke 12:23). “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your very soul?” (Matt. 16:26).
As I review the narrative of Canadian Mennonites as told through the stories and commentary of the Canadian Mennonite over the past year, I sense a creative tension between security and order (who are we and how will we be sustained?) on the one hand (creating our container), and a very hopeful attempt to fill that container with the content of caring, making room for others in our faith world, focusing our attention, through the Being a Faithful Church process, on the importance of scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual formation.
In this year ahead, I hope we will attempt to keep a good balance between these two dynamics—to not get bogged down with the statistics of survival, but to focus more on the quality of our congregational life rather than numbers and finances, to pay more attention to discernment and process, to give our sisters and brothers encouragement rather than our opinions and to make sure that persons at all stages of the journey are cared for.
“In the second half of life, we do not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us,” concludes Rohr. “We no longer need to change or adjust to other people to be happy ourselves.”