I just finished reading Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr, which is one of those Christian books that’s part devotional and part self-help. The book focuses on “two halves” of spiritual development, or what members of the resistance have dubbed “being woke”: at some point in your spiritual life, you begin to realize that just because a group calls itself “Christian” does not mean everyone within it is alike. Not every Christian has the same questions, the same doubts, and the same experiences.
When lived experiences conflict with what you’ve been taught about God and the Bible, spiritual stretching is inevitable. It may be that some of our spiritual needs are better met in places outside of church or bible study.
As an Episcopalian who believes in a “Lord, help my unbelief” sort of way – and one from a secular Jewish background as well – I’ve probably experienced more than two halves of spiritual life already, and with more to come (I realize that means I’m no longer talking about “halves,” but I have two English degrees; what do I know about fractions?). “Double belonging” is second nature to me.
For a book that isn’t specifically about finding peace with a dual spiritual identity, I found myself coming back to this passage several times:
A kind of “double belonging” is characteristic of people at this stage. No one group meets all of their needs, desires, and visions. I bet that if you’ve lasted this long with this book, you yourself are a “double belonger,” maybe even a triple or more! Colonized people, oppressed people, every kind of minority have had to learn several levels of belonging to survive and get through the day; for us more comfortable folks it is still a stretch, but finally a stretch that many are making, perhaps without even realizing it.
Sometimes it only takes a single paragraph for a book to earn a place on my “kindred spirit” shelf, and this is one of them.
For me, one example of “double belonging” is the fact that I own several bible translations for different spiritual phases. When I’m curious about the Jewish interpretation of a passage, I have two study bibles: one for the old Testament and one for the new. When all things faith seem frivolous, there’s Eugene Peterson’s “The Message.” And when I’m not energetic enough to read entire passages, but know I need to read something anyway, there’s Stephen Miller, whose “Complete Guide to the Bible” thoroughly summarizes each book, with the inclusion of pictures and historical footnotes.
Recently, I found myself missing Friday night Shabbat services, and started attending the Hillel Jewish Student Center on campus. There I befriended the director and his wife, two of the few people there who are close to my age (that is a problem when your only options for Jewish activity are the one synagogue whose members are mostly families with young kids, or the student group where 90% of members were in diapers when 9/11 happened). They recently started a “Torah study” group, which I attended for the first time last week.
I can’t explain just how refreshing it was to read the Bible like a Jew again, which means not only analyzing the text line by line (we really did spend an hour and a half just talking about the first two lines of Genesis), but parsing each Hebrew word, discussing the context, and debating the various ways in which rabbis have interpreted those words through the ages. It wasn’t just the intense level of study that I loved – Christians do that in bible studies, too – but how much raising questions and agreeing to disagree was such an integral part of the event. I’d become so used to taking one scriptural interpretation for granted (and being given dirty looks if I brought up an alternative one) that a group like this is feeding my spiritual hunger better than any Christian one has lately.
Part of me feels guilty for thinking that, but the Old Testament is still God’s word – and you can never have too much knowledge.