Richard Rohr talks about the two halves of life in his book Falling Upward (which is not on my list, but deserves an honorary mention). The first half is when we build up who we are, akin to building a container. Then in the second half of life, we fill the container and even find that God enlarges the container. Not everyone enters the second half of life. Further, both are needed and there is no justification in looking down on or diminishing the first half.
I thought of this when I read Thomas Merton’s The New Seeds of Contemplation. Its no coincidence that Rohr, like Merton, come out of the Franciscan tradition of spirituality. Merton’s book blew my mind page after page. The first 2/3 of the book was a wealth of thought-provoking spiritual depth. Through the last 1/3 I started to get lost. This is because Merton is writing on a different level of spiritual connection with the Divine, a level I am sure I’ve never experienced. Perhaps if I learn to move in to the second half of life, and return to this book, the rest of it will start to make sense. Merton’s book reminds me that for as far as I think I have come in spiritual life, I still have an incredibly long way to go.
In my 20s I may have read this book like a member of the theology police, looking for errors in doctrine. Moving towards my 40s, I yearn for more of what Merton has to say. I know Merton would not want his book to be read and forgotten, so I think I need to spend more time chewing on his words (and the words of scripture, and sitting in silence and other spiritual disciplines). In essence, you can’t just read about contemplation without putting yourself in a place to experience it.
Overall, this book is brilliant. But it may be the sort of book we aren’t ready for till we are at least in our 30s. I’m glad I’m in a place where I can appreciate Merton. So good!