Aging

Forever Young

If today we do not have a strong spirituality of aging, if we idealize youth more than old age, if we do not age gracefully, I wonder how much we have lost?

Time is no longer filled with presence and possibility, but has become merely a place for problem-solving, critique, and a necessary self-assertion. I have a tile on my hearth that says “No wise man ever wished to be younger.” (No wise woman either!) That is what you know by the second half of life and what you cannot know in any other way—although it’s possible to get to the second half of life and still not know it, as cosmetic surgeons can tell us.

It all depends on whether you actually “experience your experiences” and allow them to expand you. This is what I call natural contemplation or true presence. Without it, we just become elderly but do not become elders.

Maybe that is our problem. In Albuquerque where I serve, we have named our men’s ministry M.A.L.Es, which is an acronym for “men as learners and elders.” We saw that there were two things that most men are not naturally drawn toward: ongoing spiritual growth and their needed vocation as elders in family and society. Borrowing the phrase from Erik Erikson, we hope to create “generative” men who can actively care about the next generation.

For more than 14 years, I was a jail chaplain in Albuquerque. During that time I met many men and women who had been ravaged by life and had closed down, but I also met some who were actually wise elders (yes, even in jail!). I remember one older Latino man who served as a father figure for many of the younger men on his cell block, most of whom had huge father wounds. He told me that he has practiced different virtues during various periods of his life. For six months to a year at a time, he would focus on one, such as patience, mercy, positive thinking, or hopeful conversation. I recognized the “old” spirituality in the Christian tradition of “the cardinal virtues.”

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine December 2007
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Looking Forward in Hope

Whenever I read Luke’s account of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:25-38), I always picture a late afternoon in winter. Nature has slowed down. The day is dying. Things are slowing down in the temple, but Simeon and Anna—two faithful old people—are there.

Their long lives are drawing to a close. Maybe they are still physically robust, or maybe their bodies are trembly and their joints creaky; Luke doesn’t tell us. We know, though, that their spirits are strong and their faith is powerful. We know that their priorities are clear: They are looking forward in hope, not backward in bitterness and despair.

Luke’s story is a grandparent story. This is a story of the coming together of the great thresholds—birth and approaching death, beginnings and endings. Endings that are, in truth, new beginnings. Simeon and Anna—do they know each other? Maybe it’s a first time at the temple for Simeon, righteous and devout. Luke tells us that he has been waiting for a bittersweet message: looking forward to the consolation of Israel and the promise that he will not die until he has seen the Lord’s messiah. Even as he yearns for the good news, he knows that it presages the end of his earthly life. So now he has come in response to the message.

Anna, on the other hand, has been around seemingly forever—a fixture in the temple. She’s not just a pious old lady—she is a prophet. I have to wonder: Who conferred that identity upon her? Female prophets in the Bible are few and far between. Of course, there was Miriam, Moses’ sister, who saved her infant brother by a timely deception. Years later she joined him in a song of triumph. Spunky, she argued with the menfolk and was stricken with leprosy as a divinely ordained punishment. Anna is no Miriam, but she is spunky in her own distinctive way: Decades of faithful presence in the temple, a patriarchal place par excellence, cannot have been easy.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine December 2007
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

New And Noteworthy

A New Season

Hitting midlife can bring angst, lots of it. Dale Hanson Bourke’s Second Calling: Finding Passion and Purpose for the Rest of Your Life will speak to women who are entering the second half of life and aren’t too happy about it. Hanson Bourke records her personal journey from feeling “washed up” to energized and ready to embrace God’s calling for the next phase. The best may be yet to come. Integrity Publishers.

Civic Resistance

Two must-have publications from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict: How Freedom is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy and People Power Primed. Both look at the impact of “people power”—how civilian-based nonviolent resistance is more effective in securing democracy than violence or terrorism. The former provides fascinating stats on countries’ transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. www.nonviolent-conflict.org.

Places of Belonging

In Befriending the Stranger, beloved l’Arche founder Jean Vanier takes up the topic of community—how can we create spaces of sharing, peace, and compassion? The book’s six chapters were originally presentations Vanier made to a group of l’Arche assistants from communities in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the words and themes apply to any community. As he writes, the renewal of the church and the unity of Christians will come as we serve and befriend those who appear to us as strange, lonely, or unwanted. Eerdmans.

Walking Through Minefields

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine June 2006
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Public Radio's New Jeans

All radio—like all politics—is local. At least it is for we who still subsist without Sirius. So when I moved from north Mississippi to north-central Kentucky last fall, I was surprised to encounter National Public Radio stations that play contemporary semi-popular music. My antenna is now usually located somewhere between Louisville and Lexington, and I get a steady stream of Dar Williams and Death Cab for Cutie from both ends of that corridor. I’ve since learned that this sophisticated, folky-rocky music format called Triple-A (Adult Album Alternative) is the next big thing for public radio. If it’s not on the air in your area yet, you can glimpse the future on npr.org at the pages for “All Songs Considered” and “World Cafe.”

Of course, I’ve looked to the left of the dial for most of my music for a couple of decades now. But in the places I’ve lived, that’s usually meant volunteer-run community radio stations such as WWOZ in New Orleans and Memphis’ WEVL. Those cities are the Rome and Constantinople of America’s musical church. So it’s no surprise that they nurture community-based roots-music stations leaning, respectively, toward rhythm and blues and rockabilly. But when I’ve strayed from those holy lands, I’ve always found public radio to be about news and classical music, and maybe some jazz at night.

Now we have public radio that plays Wilco, Kathleen Edwards, and the new stuff from Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Sure, there’s more sensitive, introspective singer-songwriter material than I can stomach. But I also got to catch up on James McMurtry and hear his seven-minute anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-Wal-Mart anthem, “We Can’t Make It Here,” in heavy rotation. On the whole, an old rockabilly should be happy for once. And I was, at first, and I still am, a little. But I’m also growing vaguely uncomfortable with this new musical regime.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine April 2006
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Eighty in a 55 zone

One of the greatest challenges of my generation is caring for our aging parents,

One of the greatest challenges of my generation is caring for our aging parents, now that medical advances are enabling them to use up our inheritance at a much faster rate. Not to mention how they selfishly spend Social Security money that could otherwise be given to needy defense contractors.

I was reminded of this when my own 80-year-old father and late-70s mom came for a visit and left me with a strong impression: 80 isn’t 80 any more.

A long time ago, my great-grandfather was that age when my cousins and I would visit him in his one-room shack behind our grandparents’ house. We would sit on rickety furniture in that darkened little space, four 8-year-old boys convinced that the strange odors in the air could only be the smell of death. Great-Grandpa’s hearing was mostly gone, so he spoke loudly, punctuating his reminiscences with periodic spits of tobacco juice into a nearby coffee can. Did I mention he was toothless and laughed with a high-pitched cackle? On average, we lasted about five minutes before we would flee, shaken by the ordeal, and take refuge in a nearby tree.

these days you seldom see the elderly with tobacco juice dribbling down their chins. (My own mother has gotten much better about this, especially when company comes over.) Now they whiz down the road with big plans and bigger cars, blowing the dust off unused shuffleboards as they speed by. My father still exudes brash self-confidence as he walks up to my front door, whips out a bundle of bills, and says, "Son, here’s 50 bucks. Now turn up the heat."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine January 2005
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

A World of Elders

There are now an estimated 629 million people in the world age 60 and over. By 2050, that number is projected to grow to almost 2 billion, and—for the first time in human history—the world will have more people 60 and over than children under age 15.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe