Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What Do You Think About the Word "Aging?" Tuesday's Reflection

The Beauty of Aging in Nature
I have been asked to plan with our church's seminary intern, a woman my age, a fall retreat for members who fall into the age category referred to as the Third Chapter of Life. This retreat is a follow-up to some previous programming on end-of-life planning and has been requested by many in the church. I am delighted to be part of this and feel certain we will have a positive response to the opportunity, IF we can come up with the right title.

At a recent planning meeting, Cate and I decided to call the retreat  "Aging as a Spiritual Practice." We will focus on opportunities for reflection and offer experiences with a variety of spiritual practices. However, when Cate announced the title to a Monday morning Bible Study group, which consists mainly of our target audience, we got a big thumbs down. The word "aging" is a "turn off" and they don't want to be in the "aging group." 

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, for being an elder in our youth culture is nothing to aspire to, but the reality is, my friends, the only way to prevent aging is to die. 

Isn't it time to stop blaming someone else, usually someone younger, for what seems to be the prevailing attitudes about being old, older, oldest as lesser than another age of our life? It is time for us, those in our 60's and above, to embrace the gifts and the blessings of this time without being unrealistic about the burdens. That's one reason why I refer so often in this blog to Joan Chittister's book, The Gift Of Years, Growing Older Gracefully. In each chapter, Chittister explores both the burden and the blessing of a specific topic such as "Possibility."
          A burden of these years is to assume that when the
          great change from being defined and delimited by
          the past--however good it may have been--is over, 
          that life is over.

          A blessing of these years is to realize early, that
          this stage of life is full of possibilities, full of the 
          desire to go on living, to seize the independence,
          to create new activities and networks of interesting
          new people.    p. 58. 

One can find shadow and light in everything, and aging is no exception, but being 30, 40, 50 or any age also has limiting challenges. Each age has its blessings, and each age its burdens. 

I'm sure you've heard and perhaps even used the phrase, "Aging is not for sissies," which seems to emphasize the physical challenges of this time and also the losses that mount up --all true--but it also creates a false view, I think, that we are somewhat better or stronger if we can rise above adversity. How about, instead, accepting the burden and the blessing that comes with whatever challenges appear along the way? What a legacy we can leave to younger generations, if we could stop begging to be seen as still young and vital and instead embrace all the ways we can live our wisdom.

Instead of playing the new game of "70 is the new 50," or is it "50 is the new 70" (neither of which makes any sense to me!), why not 70 is the new 70? In my case, 67 is the new 67. It is more important in my view to know how I feel about who I am right now and how I can live fully right now. What do I think are the blessings and the burdens in my life at the present moment and how do I intend to respond to them?

Kathleen Dowling Singh in her book with another title I love, The Grace in Aging, Awaken As You Grow Older offers a questionnaire on aging--an excellent way to reflect on how you feel about being in the category of aging. Here are some sample questions.
* How do you feel about aging?
* How has your appearance changed? How do you feel about it?
* How has your position in the world changed? How do you feel about it?
* How has your reception in the world changed? How do you feel about it?
* What are your fears about your own experience of aging--to date and in the future? 
* What views about aging and the elderly--both positive and negative--have you absorbed from your cultural and family background, and how do you feel these may be unconsciously influencing your current thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes? 
* In what aspects of living have you most directed your attention and energy to date? What has been nurturing, fulfilling, supportive? What has been stressful for you?
* How do you intend to direct your energy and attention in the years remaining to you?
* What are your thoughts about spiritual maturity? What is your commitment to your own spiritual maturity? What steps have you taken? What steps do you intend to take? What keeps you from taking them now?

Singh urges us to become elders, more than elderly, and she says the way to do that is to cultivate spiritual practices, which, in turn, awakens us to our own being. With that in mind what do you think about this as a potential title for the retreat? "Inspiration for the Third Chapter of Life, Spiritual Practice and Sacred Time"

An Invitation
I invite you to reflect on the questions above and to use them as a guide in living intentionally as an elder. I would love to know what you learn. 

Joan Chittister http://joanchittister.org
Kathleen Dowling Singh  http://www.kathleendowlingsingh.com      
A blog I enjoy reading: http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/ Note yesterday's post about the language of yesterday. 


  1. Nancy, I LOVE that you posted this on my 56th birthday! :-) It feels like a lovely surprise gift as I ponder aging, wisdom, maturity, and related issues I tend to focus on every June 16th.

  2. Happy Birthday, dear Julie! YOU are the gift of the day.

  3. Here's a comment a friend emailed me and said I could post.

    "Within the last week, l learned of the Stage 4 liver-to-lung cancer of a 60 year old friend who has a 19 year old daughter and of the serious stroke of a 56 year old colleague, which nearly took her life and has left her paralyzed on the right side. She has 16 and 18 yr old children. I am reminded of the saying, "Don't regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many". I am quite delighted to being aging!"

  4. I told you when I commented on your 02/26/2015 post that you should call the group a SAGE Circle. However SAGE would now be short for Spirituality and Graceful Enlightenment. This makes no reference to age per se but seniors are considered sages my many in society.

  5. Thanks for the reminder. It is a great name for a group.


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