I had my 84th birthday earlier this week.
It’s a privilege to have lived this long.
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr has written a number of books about the process of aging. Basically, he says, the first half of life is about acquiring – possessions, wealth, friends, family. The second half is about letting go – of our acquisitions, our ideas and eventually our lives.
Recently, he’s been writing about a pattern of spirituality.
He calls it Order, Disorder and Re-Order.
In his terms, we inherit from our parents, our friends, and our social culture an understanding of the world we live in. That’s the Order. We don’t question it; we just accept it.
Then as we mature, we discover that the old Order doesn’t work as well as it should. It can be downright unfair. Life sucks; sh_t happens.
So we reject bits and pieces of what we used to take for granted. Which inevitably renders the whole old Order suspect, even if we never toss it out entirely.
And then eventually, we re-organize our lives and our understandings into a new Order – a Re-Order, in Rohr’s terms.
Once again, we know what we believe. Yes, we DO believe. We no longer drift aimlessly with the tides. Nor do we deny the reality of those tides.
I don’t think it’s just a pattern for spirituality; it’s a universal pattern for growth.
Teenagers need to rebel against their parents’ values to discover their own. Addicts have to hit bottom before they can start over.
Medical researchers must learn how much they don’t know about viruses before they can develop vaccines.
The old Order cannot see any alternatives to the way things have always been. Of course books are filed alphabetically – how else could you file them? Crayons, sorted by colour. People, slotted into stereotypes.
Then you meet someone who doesn’t match your expectations. Art lessons teach you to colour outside the lines. You realize you can live without a car after all.
Or perhaps, in Rohr’s theology, you give up believing in a God who sits on a golden throne in the sky and dispenses rewards and punishments. Heaven and hell become concepts, not destinations.
That doesn’t mean that there is no Order. It means only that you’re working your way through Disorder towards a new Order.
My Disorder phase involved identifying things I could no longer believe. About God, certainly. Also about money, power, privilege and love. In searching for a new Order, I felt obligated to challenge people who clung to unexamined assumptions.
When life expectancy was 40 years, few lived long enough to out-grow the old Order.
Those who struggled with Disorder were labelled atheists, rebels or misfits.
Very few made it to a New Order. Some did and were called mystics. Others were burned alive as heretics, a threat to the existing Order.
I now feel that I have come through enough Disorder to find a more satisfying Re-Order.
I believe far more strongly now in a divine presence within us, among us, surrounding us, than I ever did in the old Order deity I once took for granted.
And I’m profoundly grateful for living long enough to have had that opportunity.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.