“The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.”
I begin this reflection on second half of life spirituality with an excerpt from Joyce Sutpen’s poem “Crossroads.” With so many poems on the topic from which to choose, I picked Sutpen’s for its evocative imagery and its outright acknowledgement that we can choose to thrive in the second half of our lives. In just a few lines, the poet describes some of the beautiful gifts we can anticipate.
For those who accept the spiritual invitation to embrace a new way of being in the second half of life, the experience of letting go of an over-active ego and the rigidity of roles and structures can feel just as dramatic as “ice breaking up on the river.” After decades of working in corporate America, I heard ice cracking under my feet when I started my own socially responsible consulting practice. Now, many years later, as I embrace not-for-profit ministry, the ice breaks fully into fluidity. The new waters in which I find myself transport me into a more meaningful field of presence and open me to a larger, more profound responsibility. That is, to grow to be more response-able to my soul life, that of others and the very soul of the world we share.
In the first half of our lives, our developmental task is to build our sense of self through striving — personally and professionally. In the second half of life, we can shift from striving to thriving, doing to being, and from a “me-to-we” perspective. As we let go of former egoic pursuits and let our soul’s deep love and wisdom guide us, life’s flow can be unobstructed and wondrous and we can experience the soft, luminous waters of second half of life.
But letting go of predictability, defense mechanisms and social masks we have long constructed, requires faith, patience, time and the ability to sit with the discomfort of uncertainty. Waiting, especially in our rushed culture, is very hard to do. One of the most important teachings I learned in the School for Second Half of Life is that waiting is essential to creating an inner spaciousness that lets new possibilities emerge and flourish. When we wait, we are cultivating attunement with the Sacred in ourselves, others and creation. This cannot be hurried or controlled. It’s a holy act that will germinate in God’s time, not mine or yours.
Like “rain soaking the field” in its own season and cycle, our souls need the time, space and quiet to be nourished by the life-giving waters of the Spirit. In the second half of life, we are invited to blossom into full spiritual maturity by cultivating all that is yearning to be reclaimed, to grow or be born. I recall the initial anxiety I felt when students were invited in the School to look at our “shadow” selves; all the passions, dreams and talents we had disowned, suppressed or abandoned. In my case, I had to consider all that I had sidelined as I tried to balance family life with a corporate pace. Looking at my first half of life passions and gifts — even if I hadn’t fully used them or had figuratively tossed them into a shadowy bin — felt like unearthing fertile compost that helps me harvest the meaning and significance of an integrated True Self.
“A hand held out” offers connectivity when we reach out to the world from our authenticity. We connect with our God-given blessings, communities, the essence of humanity itself including all who came before us as well as future generations. In the process, “a fire” — our soul fire — emblazons and revels in its aliveness. Our urge is to give wholeheartedly. Like our revered Elders of the past, we have grown to be keepers of wisdom who have much to contribute to the common good. Our generosity is like “smoke going upward” in love, praise and deep gratitude to our Creator.
And so we pray as a world family: May our spirituality evolve upward, “always up”; stretching evermore for hope and holiness toward new ways of being and loving.
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