Priest offers spiritual survival guide for recession
A priest and author says religious leaders aren't paying attention to older people hit by recession.
September 17th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Priest offers spiritual survival guide for recession

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - Sooner or later, it happens to each of us, Richard Rohr says.

“There always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand,” the Franciscan priest said.

Maybe you’ve been laid off from a job you held for years. Perhaps you’ve experienced a nasty divorce. Or maybe the crisis is more subtle: You suddenly realized that you’ll never have the life you dreamed of living.

Any life-changing moment can knock a person down. But it can also open doors if, as Rohr puts it, a person learns how to “fall upward.”

Rohr, a 68-year-old Roman Catholic author and internationally known speaker, says older Americans face a problem: Religious leaders aren’t paying much attention to them.

Much of contemporary religion is geared toward teaching people how to navigate the first half of their lives, when they’re building careers and families. Rohr calls it a “goal-oriented” spirituality.

Yet there’s less help for people dealing with the challenges of aging: the loss of health, the death of friends, and coming to terms with mistakes that cannot be undone, he says.

Rohr’s new book, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” is his attempt to fill that void. It also functions as a spiritual survival guide for hard times as millions of Americans young and old struggle to cope with “falling”: losing their homes, careers and status.

Rohr says he coined the phrase “falling upward” to describe a paradox. Nearly everyone will fall in life because they'll confront some type of loss, he says. Yet failure can lead to growth if a person makes the right decisions.

“I’ve met people who because of the loss of things and security have been able to find grace, freedom and new horizons,” he said.

If you’re falling in any area of your life, Rohr says, one of the first skills to learn is accepting surprises.

He says it’s easy for people to turn bitter when things don’t go as planned. He sees such people all the time, whether throwing tantrums at the airport because of long lines or flocking to angry rallies in opposition to some form of social change.

“You start attacking anybody else who is not like you,” Rohr said. “If you don’t know how to deal with exceptions, surprise and spontaneity by the time you’re my age, you become a predictable series of responses of paranoia, blame and defensiveness.”

Why suffering is necessary

Rohr’s book may address contemporary issues, but the wisdom is old. He extracts insights from sources as varied as Greek mythology, Catholic mysticism and fairy tales like Cinderella.

Such stories often teach similar lessons about hard times: Suffering is necessary, the “false self” must be abandoned, and “everything belongs, even the sad, absurd and futile parts.” Rohr, who has also written “Quest for the Grail,” a book on mythology, says people have learned these hard lessons for centuries through myth.

The heroes in mythological stories follow the same pattern. They must first experience humiliation, loss and suffering before finding enlightenment. They are often forced on their journey by a crisis.

No contemporary American is going to be asked to fight a monster, but an event like the evaporation of a retirement fund or the death of a spouse can force you to summon strength you didn’t know you had, Rohr says.

The key is not resisting the crisis.

“You have to allow the circumstances of God and life to break you out of your egocentric responses to everything,” he said. “If you allow ‘the other’ - other people, other events, other religions - to influence you, you just keep growing.”

That growth, though, is accompanied by death - the death of the “false self,” Rohr said. The false self is the part of your self tied to your achievements and possessions.

When your false self dies, you start learning how to base your happiness on more eternal sources, he says.

“You start drawing from your life within,” Rohr said. “You learn to distinguish from the essential self and the self that’s window dressing.”

Those who break through the crisis and lose their false selves become different people: less judgmental, more generous and better able to ignore “evil or stupid things,” he says.

It may sound esoteric, Rohr says, but many of us have met older people like this. They possess a “bright sadness”: they’ve suffered but they still smile and give.

“I’ve seen that in the wonderful older people in my life,” Rohr says. “There’s a kind of gravitas they have. … There’s an easy smile on their faces. These are the people who laugh, who heal, who build bridges, who don’t turn bitter.”

Rohr says this bright sadness isn’t confined to older people.

“I've met 11-year-old children in cancer wards who are in the second half of life,” he said in a recent interview with Amazon.com, “and I have met 68-year-old men like me who are still in the first half of life.”

Learning the ‘grace of failure’

Rohr’s book has found some fans in high places who were touched by his insights.

Father Gerry Blaszczak, a chaplain at Fairfield University in Connecticut, says Rohr’s book challenges the notion that success is a natural result of being religious.

“Our culture is prone to imagine that growth takes place in a sort of constant, upward movement,” he says. “Even our religious culture tends to focus on success and stability as ideals for religious growth.”

Rohr’s book reminds people about the “grace of failure,” Blaszczak says.

“In the Christian tradition, loss, collapse and failure have always been seen as not only unavoidable, but even necessary on the path to wisdom, freedom and personal maturity,” Blaszczak said.

He says he knows older people who struggled to rebuild their identities after they poured much of their earlier lives’ energies into professional and personal success.

“It is not that these professional or personal ideas were necessarily bad in themselves,” he said. “It is more that they proved inadequate. We invested way too much in them. We thought our identities could be formed by them.”

Jim Finley, a retreat leader and Catholic scholar, says Rohr is reminding people about the value of elders.

“Our culture tends to be youth-oriented, and a lot of spirituality is youth oriented,” says Finley, author “The Contemplative Heart.” “But our elders are the embodiment of the wisdom that life matters at a much deeper level than what we can achieve and produce.”

Brian McLaren, author of “The Naked Spirituality,” says Rohr’s book touches on an important paradox that you probably won’t hear in a Sunday morning sermon: “Imperfect people” are sometimes more equipped than “perfect people” to help those who are struggling.

“The person who never makes a mistake and always manages to obey the rules is often a compassionless person, because he sees people for whom the wheels have fallen off and he wonders what’s wrong with them,” he said. “But the person who feels that he has ruined his life often has more capacity for humility and compassion.”

McLaren says Rohr’s book helped reveal to him how much of his youthful spiritual energy was driven by narrow concerns.

“I’m embarrassed as I’m getting older about how much of my energy and vitality as a younger man was driven by ego and a win-lose mentality.”

Today Rohr seems driven by something else: The need for rest.

For years, his life has been a whirlwind. He’s traveled the globe speaking at retreats on everything from men’s spirituality to Catholic mysticism.

He also founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an organization that encourages acts of justice rooted in prayer and respect for other religious traditions.

Yet after almost seven decades of living, Rohr said,  “I am still a mystery to myself.”

Rohr plans on solving some of that mystery. He says he’s going to retire in two years to spend more time at his home in New Mexico. He says he needs more time for contemplation.

“The first half of life, you write the text,” he said. “The second half of your life is when you write the commentary. You have to process what it all meant.”

As Rohr withdraws from speaking and writing, he will be challenged to follow his own advice. He’ll spend less energy on his “false self” as his old identity dissolves.

He says he’s ready, though, to fall upward. If he lost his position as a priest, author and respected speaker, he says he would still feel secure.

“Most of us don’t learn this until it is taken away, like losing the security of your 401(k). Then the learning either starts or you circle the wagons,” he said. “I know who I am beyond my roles.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Economy

soundoff (1,015 Responses)
  1. b9fruits

    I think the article is good to bring this to the attention of churches but there are many, many churches ministering to not only older Americans but everyone, including the mentally and physically challenged!. It is a task of Spiritual leadership to identify and develop leaders within the congregation to minister to people. (Moses) Prayer, the Holy Spirit and teaching the people within the Church to minister is crucial. Also, Although Churches have a decree from God to minister to all people Churches grow spiritually just as people. A more mature church more than a less mature church has financial and staff resources. Overall every Church has a mission from God to reach out to absolutely everyone. When choosing a Church read about their vision and mission. Even within our hardship we minister to others'.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • kimsland

      Yes churches love money, they want to buy their way into the magical there after.
      Fools Ha Ha Ha

      September 18, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  2. George Clifford

    The concept of falling upward makes a lot of sense to me. In small things, people learn through failure and perseverance. That this is also true with respect to larger crises in life seems logical.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • kimsland

      What about keeping your feet flat on the ground?
      Simple slogans don't make belief right, they just make it sound more ludicrous

      September 18, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  3. kimsland

    New studies shows that god is fiction.
    And that's a fact.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • pynhedd

      The truth will set you free.

      September 18, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • meemee

      A necessary fact in freeing ones mind and spirit from these psychological parasites of religious proselytizing.

      September 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Marti

      No – recent studies have not shown that God is fiction. Certain scholars may have formed that opinion. However, they can not prove they are right. God can not be proven or dis proven! However, Faith has been beneficial to many many people. Even the medical profession states that people of faith do better when dealing with serious illnesses. Everyone has a right to their opinion – but no one can state a fact that God is fiction. It is just purely their own opinion. I myself will choose the side that believes in a God! There are just some things that can not be proven – and even science hasn't proven any such thing! There are scientist out there with no faith – and scientist with a very strong faith. So – don't criticize those who do believe.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • leecherius

      Really , sources please..

      September 19, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Peacemaker

      "New studies" which ones? Give us some facts. Just because you do not believe does not make GOD unreal. The majority of world cultures and populations BELIEVE in GOD. Check it out and learn something. Peace.

      September 19, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • FreeAtLast

      Sorry, there is no such thing as "A FACT." Point to any process and wait for its change ....ooops there goes your fact.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  4. Granny

    This is the best article about life that I've ever read. Very comforting.

    Maybe those criticizing should re-read it?

    September 18, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • kimsland

      There's no use re reading it.
      You can't laugh at the same joke twice. But you can continue laughing at all these new jokes that CNN 'belief' puts up.
      Seriously everyone of them are funny, we should put them all in one book to really have a good laugh. Oh wait that's been done already.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • PeaceJoy

      When I was last in Spain, a few years ago, I happened to pass by an old Christian cemetery. At the entrance across an arch was written: "All of life is an illusion. Only this is a certainty." We are not physical bodies on a spiritual journey.We are spiritual bodies on a temporary physical journey.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • Peacemaker

      I agree with you! His books are amazing.

      September 19, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • FreeAtLast

      Caste not your pearls before swine granny, they know not what they do. the same personalities nailed your greatest teacher to a piece of wood. You really don't expect them to have changed that much in 2,000 years do you? Hate is alive as it always has been, they'll recycle until they get a clue.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  5. jim

    The reason Christians think atheists hate their god is that they have created a god so contemptible they would hate him themselves if they had the balls.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • pynhedd

      Yes, and they would nail his uesless @ss to a cross. How absurd!

      September 18, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Peacemaker

      You are so wrong.

      September 19, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  6. Mathilda

    @Jim, why can't I comment? You're just another tyrannical atheist. Atheists never give anyone any freedom.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • kimsland

      Good point.
      Lock religious people up, they are a mistake of humankind.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • FreeAtLast

      If you don't "know how" use a bicycle ...then you could never visualize a person could ride it. That's religion, and "many will be called while few will be chosen" reflects this. the majority of religious people have NO training in esoteric philosophy and therefore fail at understanding the true message of Christ. Because they could not understand him they claimed he spoke in parables. You need a esoteric interpretation in order to see the real usefulness of his message. You could say cars are bad because they run over people, but that's a shallow understanding, mush like your blanket rhetoric regarding religion. ...funny thing is...I'm not religious either, but I recognize the true power when applied correctly.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  7. jim

    @Mathilda Why don't you stick your head up your @$$, it's just making a fool of you out here!

    September 18, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • herbert juarez

      The voice of experience,jim tried the head thing and he really, really liked it! God bless

      September 18, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  8. DrMabuse

    Page 73: "To save money on heating bills during the winter months, be sure to have several young boys to sleep with at night."

    September 18, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • pynhedd

      That's what they do in S.F. I hear. You should move there.

      September 18, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Peacemaker

      (excuse the yelling)


      September 19, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  9. jim

    "older Americans face a problem: Religious leaders aren’t paying much attention to them."
    This is because younger people have more money than older ones. Churches always go where the money is.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:32 am |
    • herbert juarez

      What segment of society holds the most disposable cash?God bless

      September 18, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • DrMabuse

      And churches and their priest always seek out young people to molest.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Are you the molestee, the molester or both?

      September 18, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • DrMabuse

      Hey, herbert, I bet your best friend is a priest. Having fun?

      September 18, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Sorry, don't know you.God bless

      September 18, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • DrMabuse

      Herby: Time for Sunday mass, Father Herbert. Stop thinking about the altar boys long enough to pray to your delusion.

      September 18, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Am not a religious so I cannot help you with your problems.You should seek help asap,meds might help.God bless.

      September 18, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • DrMabuse

      It's OK that you're not religious, Herby, most pedophile priests aren't.

      September 18, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Reading comprehension is not your strong point,is it ?The phrase was" a "religious ,i.e.(that means as an example) I am not clergy of any kind.If the conversation is a little too fast for you try another thread.God bless "dr."

      September 18, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  10. Conrad

    Dear people of the whole world
    regadless of your religion
    God/s never ask you to hate or kill another human

    so what we do right now oversea
    is not exactly what God want us to do..!!!

    just remember the lives we lose every single day

    September 18, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Mathilda

      Conrad, are you stupid? Americans went overseas to bring freedom and human rights there. No other reason. Americans are different from the rest of the nations. All seclusive nations are evil. They always have massive number of victims inside.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • Stephen

      Way to go Matilda, just by speaking you are a poster child for what's wrong with "Christians".

      September 18, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Mathilda

      @Stephan, The liberal ignorants like you encourage American soldiers to commit suicide. USA was born to liberate nations. Likes of you are self-stuffers but USA is not.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • bluesky

      @Mathilda –
      Do you really believe that we have gone into other countries to bring them freedom and human rights? You need to look at the actual facts. The sad truth is, even though our politicians try to sell us that our motive is freedom for other peoples, we are happy to support dictators as long as they serve our purposes. We have overthrown and worked against freedom fighters when it suited our purposes. We are hated not because we have freedom, but because of our hypocrisy. I daily pray that we will start to live up to the ideals you express.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Atheist

      Mathilda's either a successful troll or else she's just waltzing.

      September 18, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  11. Noigiler

    When I think of religion I think of a recent visit to a cemetery. A place filled with names, a few I may recognize, dates, slogans, lines of poetry etched in stone, statues and flowers. As I turn and walk away from this place where only death resides. I'm left with a cold and empty, ever-so-slight, feeling of an almost detached yet nostalgic melancholy.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  12. Otto

    I was going to write a materialistic survival guide for recession, but it turns out I am too honest to fleece people with such things. So here's the summary of my materialistic survival guide for recession : "write a spriritual survival guide for recession, fill it with drivel from cover to cover, and charge $19.95 for it".

    September 18, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • kimsland

      I buy, I buy
      Is it on sale?

      Burn the bible

      September 18, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • herbert juarez

      History gives us other notable figures who advocate burning books, Adolf Hitler comes to mind.You are in the right company.God bless

      September 18, 2011 at 7:32 am |
    • kimsland

      @herbert juarez

      I live in the present, not 2000 years ago with your barbaric beliefs.

      I like throwing bibles into bomb fires. Please try it yourself its cleansing for your soul.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • herbert juarez

      First the ideas, then the authors ,then the readers,seig heil!

      September 18, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  13. Mathilda

    Americans should stop sleeping in and shopping on Sundays but go to church instead.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • DrMabuse

      Sleeping in: useful
      Shopping: useful
      Going to church: a waste of time

      September 18, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • Mathilda

      @Dr-, the church goers alone established USA. You belong to North Korea.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Emax

      @Mathilda....The founding fathers were deists.

      September 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  14. cachuw

    Someday in a far away time mankind will not be worshiping statues...

    September 18, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • pynhedd

      You are greatly misinformed.

      September 18, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  15. Alfred Brock

    The Catholic Church will gladly take donations of any kind : real estate, stocks, bonds and cash. If you want to see a more equitable distribution of income in the United States – tax the churches like the private companies they are organized like and see what happens. Tax benefits for religious organizations fall into three general categories: tax-free donations, tax-free land and tax-free commercial enterprises. Mr. Rohr's book and his travel and his mysticism are all financed by the fact that he can live a tax-free existence – keep in mind that while he is jetting around the world like a modern day – I don't know – spiritual playboy? ...many churches are falling into ruin and causing blight around them.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • cachuw

      Imagine if the gov't taxed religion.. the budget would balance, churches would be bankrupt,
      and mankind would be better off....

      September 18, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  16. Beverly


    September 18, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  17. Beverly

    WHERE ARE MY COMMENTS GOING????????????????

    September 18, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • kimsland

      And the one that made it was that one?

      September 18, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • cachuw

      Beverly you might want to get a colonoscapy the doc will read them for you;;;

      September 18, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  18. kimsland

    So if you're weak down and out and have little or no hope left then jesus is for you.
    But if you have strength of mind and able to see that life always has ups and downs but we still continue on, then obviously this churchy stuff is not for you.

    Got it

    September 18, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  19. Cure for USA

    A real quick socio-science for all Americans:

    * All atheistic regimes in the world have been tyrannical and conducted mega massacres everywhere
    * Americans don't read Russian literature or study any history
    * Atheistic Americans are immoral

    Most Likely Probability : American atheists once in power will oppress everyone, imposing their immorality.

    Recommended Action: Ban atheism in USA now.

    * The above recommendation is completely in line with the American atheists' daily opinions against the religious people in USA.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:12 am |
    • Michael

      I love how your ASSUMPTION is that all Atheists everywhere are out to get you, to oppress you, so with your assumption you justify OPPRESSING Atheists, you are a hypocritical Jesus loving FREAK.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • kimsland

      Ban Religion

      September 18, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • Mathilda

      Americans are stupid because the Soviets only oppressed Eastern Europeans and never landed on America.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • doctore0

      @Cure for USA FAIL, the way you speak is just like the tyrant you want to plug on atheists.
      Atheism is one thing, we don't believe in gods, there is no dogma... not like in your christianity where your god is the worst mass murderer tyrant and torturer in all of fiction.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Mathilda

      @Doctor-: God and Christians always saved the world but atheists always only kill and destroy. Secular Americans are naive and ignorant because you don't study history.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • cachuw

      What is an atheiest..Is that just another worshipper? Oh that's right we don't worship the god's like you do..
      Don't have time for such nonsense!!

      September 18, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Shepherd

      @Cure for USA – Please give us some proof of your "facts". Oh...that's right, you are like all the religious and mistake fact for faith. The religious don't question, they believe and do what they are told. Like sheep, you are herded and directed, afraid to step out of bounds. Your education tells you to question everything, EXCEPT faith. You've been hoodwinked to believe that morality is based solely in religion. You overlook historical facts, like the true basis for most every war (religion) and deflect that insanity on the people you have been taught all your life to fear...those that question everything, including faith, and demand proof to call something factual.

      Understood that Atheists frighten you and you want them silenced. It's what your religious leaders have told you think. You justify your animosity in the name of your faith, just as you justify our silencing on the bed of millions upon millions of corpses "silenced" in the name of religion before us. You are told that this is moral behavior, and you don't question it...because you are told not to question your faith.

      And people should fear Atheism?

      September 18, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Peacemaker

      @Michael ........ that statement you are opposed to is just like the ones atheists make, hard to look in the mirror, eh?

      September 19, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  20. Mathilda

    Americans, don't complain since none of you are starving to death. Don't try to get an aid; try not to be a burden on your federal or local government. That's the way to live. Governments don't have money to feed you, since they need to build roads and bridges and pay for education. Get some dignity and feel shame to get aid from others.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:09 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      actually there are approximately 36.3 million people–including 13 million children–that live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger...that is far too many people
      please do not use your blasphemy of the atheists/non-believers as an excuse for this especially given the number of innocent children involved

      there is no excuse for anyone to go hungry or without the basics in life (education, housing, food, clothing)

      September 18, 2011 at 10:22 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.