Choose LIfe-The Path of Descent

Hagia Sophia Istanbulc. J. P. Mahon, 2012

Hagia Sophia Istanbul
c. J. P. Mahon, 2012

Richard Rohr popularizes Carl Jung’s two halves of life theory. The first half, the length of which varies from person to person, is about building the container. Early on we are on the path of ascent building our ego, building structures which will help us establish ourselves. It’s about us, our work, our dreams, our accomplishments, our families and our lives. At some point, we grow into a sense of futility about what we have been about. My experience is that the path of descent is not a single event, though it may be. Rather, it is about adjusting to the changes that life throws at us when the joints stiffen from arthritis and when the systems which served us well in the first half start to dwindle or even fail. When I was growing up, we were bombarded with aspirin ads during the nightly news.  Now we are bombarded with ads about Androgel for Low T(estosterone) and Cialis to be ready for the right time!

A traumatic event or a series of minor crises breaks the container open. We start to stumble downhill on the slope of descent. Life is unraveling. It is no longer about me. It becomes a matter of us. We find a greater need for community and service to others in community. We are, as Jesus said, on the path of the cross. We are losing our identity so we can re-discover our true self, our deepest self emerging as the spark of the divine within.

As I read the now familiar passage from Deuteronomy I sensed that the two half analysis also applies to our spiritual lives. In the January Experience, Walter Brueggemann said that the Israelites turned to Leviticus with its priestly codes for moral guidance. If you do a + b + c, then these consequences will follow.  Deuteronomy is about Torah and forming a sense of justice. The Torah, especially the book of Leviticus, is then about the first half of life. Torah provides the structures for right living as the Buddhists say. The Ten Commandments and all church laws are very much about building the container that will sustain us as we grow toward the second half of life. Believers who are stuck in the “me and Jesus” thing and preoccupied with the salvation of their own souls are first half people. The Roman Church before Vatican II was very much a first half church. The patriarchal hierarchy gave detailed blueprints for building the structures which would assure heavenly bliss forever. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have worked long and hard to turn back the clock on Vatican II. Patriarchy works best when the leaders keep the followers on the path of blind submission to rules made to support and maintain hierarchy.

Today’s reading from Deuteronomy seems to me to be opening the door to the second half of life. Life is not about prescriptions. It is about us and the choices we make. It is an invitation and not a command. We are invited to choose life; however, in choosing life, we have to journey far beyond the boundary makers set by any religion. Jesus took us beyond narrow defined salvation fences. He opened the door to life. Life is about the cross. Life is about living with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Life is about living in paradox, chaos, and messes where we are challenged to make choices. The Creator has equipped us with a conscience which, if properly formed in the first half of life, can guide our second half choices. Jesus pointed the way. Life in the second half is about challenging the religious and social structures which keep us in bondage. Jesus was a prophet not a priest and prophets challenge secular and ecclesiastical authority. Jesus came to set us free that we might have life and life in abundance. Life in the second half is about Matthew 25 and how we treat the least among us. This invitation runs counter to what our capitalistic, profit-driven culture teaches. Life is about the spiritual and corporeal works of mercy. Life is about service to others. Life is about community—after all we are all one. Life is about choosing the path of descent, about growing out of ourselves so we can serve one another. Choosing life is choosing the path of descent. Choosing life is about choosing death to the false self. Choosinglife is about choosing life now. Choosing life is about fanning the spark of the divine within which is our true self made in the very image of the Creator.

As I apply the halves of life analysis to the life of my anam cara, Thomas matron, I have come to notice that the pattern applies very much to his life. Merton entered the monastery after living a dissolute life so that the monastic structures would help him build his contained. On the corner of Fourth and Walnut, he began the path of descent. He was no longer living part from others in his own little container. He was one with all the people on the street who were walking around singing like the sun. He knew he was one with these people, with God, and with all creation. Resolving some first half life issues, especially during his torrid affair with M, he grew to know that he could be loved by a woman—a very important lesson given that his stern  mother died when he was six. Shortly before his untimely death, Merton wrote Hagia Sophia. The poem is all about second half of life stuff:

Sophia, the feminine child, is playing in the world,
obvious and unseen, playing at all times before the Creator.
Her delights are to be with the children of men. She is their sister.
The core of life that exists in all things is tenderness, mercy, virginity
the Light, the Life considered as passive, as received, as given, as
taken, as inexhaustibly renewed by the Gift of God. Sophia is
Gift, is Spirit, Donum Dei. She is God-given and God
Himself as Gift. God as all, and God reduced to Nothing:
inexhaustible nothingness. Exinanivit semetipsum. Humility as
the source of unfailing light.

Hagia Sophia in all things is the Divine Light reflected in them,
considered as a spontaneous participation, as their invitation
to the Wedding Feast. (

Merton is now speaking the language of the second half of life—the language of mercy, tenderness, and love. The language of Jesus as mother. The language of descent and surrender.



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