Faith Column: Our two halves of life
Our first half of life is about creating an identity, who are we, finding some boundary markers through traditions, trustworthy authorities and structures, making money and wealth, getting an education, marrying, and raising children which we spend the rest of our lives defending. In other words, it’s about filling the empty vessel that the Creator gave us. It’s all about me, that “Life is about me.”
We spend the first half of life obsessed with getting to heaven, having a happy death. Religion becomes a very privatized “evacuation plan from earth to the next world” (as Brian McLaren of Sojourners calls it). We fail to recognize that we are actually about life, that we should be loving our neighbor, the outsider, the poor, sharing our accumulated life’s experiences with others.
What we use to fill the empty vessel is necessary to a point. The first half of life is largely a matter of reproduction, food, and survival (gathering and storing everything under heaven). We spend a lot of time creating “purity codes” to make us pleasing to God for some reason. The first half of life values as identity, security, and boundary questions are mostly concerns of the ego, not the soul or spirit. This doesn’t mean they are bad, it’s just a starting point that we need to recognize. The soul or spirit asks higher questions in the hierarchy of needs — like education, housing that’s affordable, care of our home mother earth, social justice, the arts, immigration, penal reform, and the morality of war itself.
How do we find when we reach the second half of life? When do we awaken our deepest and most profound selves? By praying and meditating, creating silence and solitude in our lives, and the sacraments? Yes to all, but the most important according to the spiritual masters is to live and fully accept our reality. Sounds simple on the surface but it becomes very hard to do when we have to break through all the barriers of religious trappings we’ve created to avoid taking up our own inglorious, mundane, and ever-present cross.
To get through this barrier we’ve created requires that we find our center and circumference. At first living in this reality won’t seem very spiritual. We’ll feel like we’re trapped at the edges of life instead of dealing with the essence which requires we go deep inside ourselves. Most will run toward more esoteric and dramatic postures instead of bearing the mystery of God’s suffering and joy inside ourselves. You mean I have to accept suffering as part of my journey? Yes!
Once we’re able to find solitude, silence and meditation in our lives, the center will find us. Our own mind will not be able to figure it out. Traveling through our realities or “circumferences” will lead us to the core reality, where we come face to face with our truest self and our truest God. It is through our brokenness and rejoicing humanity we get to understand God in us. Now we start realizing there is more to life than filling the vessel our way. Life is not about us, but we are about life — “The break through moment, the beginning of the second half of life” where we make peace with our past, stop accumulating and gathering titles and look forward to moving from Age-ing to Sage-ing. We find a profound new vision of growing older!