Reflection of the Week - 20th February 2024

By Richard Rohr

Posted in Faith

Falling Down and Moving Up

A down and then up perspective doesn’t fit into our Western philosophy of progress, nor into our desire for upward mobility, nor into our religious notions of perfection or holiness. ‘Let’s hope it is not true, at least for me,’ we all say. Yet the Perennial Tradition, sometimes called the wisdom tradition, says it is and will always be true. St Augustine called it the passing over mystery (or the ‘paschal mystery,’ from the Hebrew word for Passover, Pesach.

Today we might use a variety of metaphors: reversing engines, a change in game plan, a falling off the very wagon that we constructed. No one would choose such upheaval consciously. We must somehow ‘fall’ into it. Those who are too carefully engineering their own superiority systems will usually not allow it at all. It is much more done to us than anything we do ourselves, and sometimes nonreligious people are more open to this change in strategy than are religious folks who have their private salvation project all worked out. This is how I interpret Jesus’ enigmatic words, ‘The children of this world are wiser in their ways than the children of light’ (Luke 16:8). I’ve met too many rigid and angry Christians and clergy to deny this sad truth, but it seems to be true in all religions until and unless they lead persons to the actual journey of spiritual transformation.

Falling down and moving up is the most counter-intuitive message in most of the world’s religions, including Christianity. ‘We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.’ That just might be the central message of how spiritual growth happens, yet nothing in us wants to believe it. I actually think it’s the only workable meaning of any remaining notion of ‘original sin.’ There seems to have been a fly in the ointment from the beginning, but the key is recognising and dealing with the fly rather than throwing out the whole ointment!

By denying their pain and avoiding the necessary falling, many have kept themselves from their own spiritual journeys and depths – and therefore have been kept from their own spiritual heights. Because none of us desire, seek, or even suspect a downward path to growth, we have to get the message with the authority of a ‘divine revelation.’ So, Jesus makes it into a central axiom: The ‘last’ really do have a head start in moving toward ‘first,’ and those who spend too much time trying to be ‘first’ will never get there (Matthew 19:30). Jesus says this clearly in several places and in numerous parables, although those of us still on their first journey just cannot hear this. It has been considered mere religious fluff, as much of Western history has made rather clear. Our resistance to the message is so great that it could be called outright denial, even among sincere Christians.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, introduction to ‘Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,’ rev. ed. (San Franciso, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2024), xix-xx, xxi.

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