The Pogues, an Irish band, titled one of their albums “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” while Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, titled one of his books Falling Upward. Both—their music and his writings—are incredibly spiritual art-forms that bring listeners and readers to deeper places within the human condition and deeper places in our relationship with the divine. If we fall from grace we want to know that God is falling right there with us and, if He is, we want to imagine ourselves falling upward, falling into His hands.
The Catholic Church teaches that we are not defined primarily by our falls, our faults, our failings, or our sins but we’re defined primarily by God’s unyielding and uncompromising love for us. What the church calls “original sin” society calls “the human condition.” Furthermore, the church teaches that we can rise above original sin through sacramental grace, given first and foremost in the Sacrament of Baptism by which we become children of God. Similarly, our society teaches that we can rise above, or at least better contend with, the human condition by gaining insight into who we are via counseling, mentoring, educating, and other means that help us deepen self-understanding. Of course, spiritualists suggest that we should go a step further to gain insight into who we are by gaining insight into Whose we are, i.e., in Whose heart we reside and into Whose hands we fall.
Though falling physically can be a frightening occurrence, when it comes to spirituality we shouldn’t be afraid to fall. Just as falling in love can be frightening, we recognize it’s a worthwhile fall to take; like falling into a pool of cool water or “taking the plunge,” the fall can be exhilarating—even if we get pushed. Sometimes we need to be pushed. Those who never fall will never experience the tremendous sensation of spiritual gravity.
Catholics are familiar with Jesus’ final walk, the Way of the Cross, in which He fell. Bearing the cross and transforming it from an instrument of torture into an instrument of triumph, He fell for us for the sake of love; and He fell three times. We, of course, will fall three million, even three gazillion, times—it’s part of our human condition to fall, to fail, to go down. But every act of Jesus is a lesson for us and we can learn from His falls. Every time we fall, we have a choice: to lay there under the weight of our burden or get back up, as He did, and carry on. In the falls, He didn’t lose sight of His destiny, His goal, His union with the Father that awaited. Every time He fell, He found the courage, the strength, the faith to get back up; He knew that He was falling forward to His purpose, onward toward His goal, and each time He got back up, He was a step closer to that reality. Don’t be afraid to fall: the only people who never fall are those that never engage in life or embrace love or experience God—they are the most deprived among us.
Sometimes we identify more with The Pogues who tune us in to life’s dangers that summon us to fall from grace; and sometimes we identify more with Rohr’s recognition that, even when we fall, God is there with outstretched hands, falling with us, walking beside us, helping us to bear the burden, reminding us that we fell forward—a step closer to our destiny, and beckoning us to fall into His merciful heart, upward into His loving hands.
Though we don’t usually need to be pushed when we fall in love, we do usually need to push ourselves to fall deeper into love, i.e., we need to make ourselves more vulnerable, more willing to surrender, more open to growth, etc. Deepening our spiritual union with God is something like falling in love. Let us not be afraid to fall into the Beloved, realizing that God is falling for us, too.