Aging and Renewal Through Community

As we explore the concept of eldering in the current issue (May/June/July 2016), we revisit some excerpts from the Weavings archive. To order a copy of the “Eldering” issue, call 1.800.972.0433. Back issues of Weavings are also available—while supplies last. Browse the inventory.

streamAs we age, many of us feel lonely, especially after losing a loved one. The loss of things we took for granted — being valued for our work, good health and energy, mobility — seems to diminish us, and we wonder whether we have anything to contribute to society, whether we are of value. The truth is that we have gathered a lifetime of wisdom, which the world needs to hear and we need to acknowledge. Finding others with whom to share where our life journey has taken us and the lessons learned along the way offers a means of expressing and claiming who we are. I am blessed with such a group. Every Tuesday morning seven friends gather at my house for two hours of lectio divina, reflection, and conversation. This is sacred time.

What we do together in the group is akin to harvesting–we gather a harvest of wisdom grown over the many years each of us has walked the Christ-path. The wisdom insights that have emerged include willingness to let go; acceptance of what is; gratitude for gifts of grace; living with vulnerability; allowing for Mystery; and choosing simplicity.

I have been trying to simplify my life and in particular attempting to clear out my basement in preparation for downsizing my living space. We have talked in the group about the call of Jesus to live more simply and I have especially been challenged as I witness how others interpret that call. One person in particular offers gracious hospitality with simple vegetarian fare served by soft candlelight. I am a foodie who loves to cook only with the finest ingredients, and I must ask myself whether I am justified in what I spend on food. My friend also dresses simply and tastefully but my love of clothes makes demands on my purse that have more to do with want than need. This kind of dilemma leads us into conversation and prayer about how far we will go to follow the “must have’s” our culture expects and the recognition that the gospel reminds us to live simply. I am also led to ask what other “stuff ” I carry that no longer serves me, such as deep-rooted habits, “if only” fantasies, and expectations that clearly will not be met. Letting go is tough, but there is also a wonderful lightness that makes me want to dance inside once I jettison the extra baggage. The letting go enables me to harvest the lightness and joy of simplicity.

Another crop to be harvested from reflection on life is gratitude. Again and again one or another of us speaks of our gratitude for past blessings, many of them brought about through suffering, but many relating to present experience.

We have also learned to be grateful for less spectacular graces. Today my arthritis is less painful, I found the book that was lost, a friend called for no particular reason, I received an unexpected check that will cover my dental work — we begin to notice these things and to find joy in them. In 1984, Brother David Steindl-Rast wrote an important book entitled Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer in which h e says that i f the only prayer we have is thank you, it is enough. The subtitle of the book is An Approach to Life in Fullness, and I think I now better understand that life lived gratefully is the life Jesus talks about. My group reminds me that I am not diminished, empty, useless, because life in Christ is life in all its fullness.

One of the great joys of growing older is that being right about everything, especially religion, is no longer my priority. Mystery companions me more than propositions about God, and I am more willing to say “I don’t know” in response to some questions about God. What I do know is that the experience of God and the power of the life and words of Jesus have grown exponentially over the years. Often the best I can do is remain in silence before the awesome presence of our Creator. Sometimes in our group a moment like this occurs and someone will  suggest that we remain in silence rather than engage in conversation. Our discussions in the Lectio group often relate to a new insight from science or academia that leads us into wonder. Sometimes one of us will bring a poem to share because good poetry is more than a proposition and opens us to new possibilities of seeing, tasting, and hearing wisdom in fresh ways. The work of harvesting continues. The chaff is blown away and, by God’s grace, our containers are  filled with the wisdom-wheat that sustains us for the continuing journey and becomes a gift for the world.

From “A Harvest of Wisdom,” Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 2013).

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