Aging: Moving Gracefully into the 2nd Half of Life ~ Rev. Christine Kell
As we explore a new way of looking at our life’s journey, we take a look at the idea that the wisdom and peace we seek are largely found in the second half of our lives. If simply increasing age doesn’t get us there, what does?
Talk starts at 20:40
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A transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the Deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings and songs from this week’s service are also included.
A new translation from the Aramaic, from The Illustrated Book of Sacred Scriptures, Timothy Freke, editor:
Birther and Breath of All.
Create a space inside of us.
and fill it with your presence.
Let Oneness now prevail.
Your one desire then acts through ours,
as energy fills all forms.
Give us physical and spiritual
nourishment each day.
Untangle the knots of error that bind us,
as we release others.
Don’t let appearances make us forgetful
of the Source, but free us to act
Age to age, from you comes the glorious
harmony of life.
May these statements be the fertile
ground from which our future grows.
Creator of all, Source of all love and peace~Reverend Melanie Eyre
For all beset by fire, drought, and danger, we pray for help.
We pray for strength and comfort, sending our light and love to shower upon them.
We lift them up as they seek safety and peace for themselves, their families, and communities.
May all be protected, may all find shelter, food, water and safety.
We send our loving light and blessings to those firefighters and first responders who battle the fires and safeguard those injured and displaced.
May the fires be contained. May rain come, and may healing begin.
May all come together in common purpose to rebuild homes and communities where all may live in peace.
We pray for our earth, which is burning and which is suffering. We ask for forgiveness, as we have too long disregarded and squandered this precious gift that sustains us, this complex, interconnected web of miraculous, breathing life.
May we remember the original love that created us all, connected and whole. May we grow in the wisdom to care for our common home, and all life upon it, as the loving stewards we are called to be. May we be loving, compassionate, and humble.
And so it is.
Aging: Moving Gracefully into the 2nd Half of Life by Rev. Christine Kell
Sept. 13, 2020
Good morning. Chris Kell here this morning, and I am so happy to be with you all again. I love my One World family and it is always a pleasure and an honor to spend time with you all. And it is especially a pleasure to hear the great music that we are treated to each week. So, once again thank you Asha and the One World band.
Last week Rev. Melanie talked about moving into the second half of life with greater wisdom and depth. Today I want to continue that theme and talk about how we can move into the second half of life with grace.
When I started to think about offering a talk about aging, I realized that although I have definitely moved into the second half of my life, I have never given it much thought –– and by it I mean the process of aging and what that really means. Like many older people, I don’t want to be old, I resent being old, and being old sometimes makes me fearful and angry at the world.
So, when the opportunity came around to give a talk about the 2nd half of life, I was happy to do it. But, I was also apprehensive about how to talk honestly about old age without being a total grumpy pants. How does a person age with grace, I wondered? How do we age gracefully and lovingly while surrendering to old age and life’s inevitable ending?
I started by dong a little research about aging. Along the way, I came across an interview with Dr. Isabella Bick, at that time an 81-year-old practicing psychotherapist, who said that acceptance of aging is necessary for growth, but “it’s not a resigned acceptance; it’s an embracing acceptance.”
Here was a woman, 81 years old, talking about still growing, and, even more amazing, calmly accepting of the actuality of aging. I thought, how could she be so OLD and still be so happy?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but generally speaking, a lot of older people tend to act in one of two ways. Some seem to be bitter, angry at both people who are not old and at the world for dismissing them from where they think the action is. These “seniors” demand that the rest of the world cater to them, make them special, and accept their bad temper. They are the ones I believe Oscar Wilde had in mind when he said: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”
Those who age with wisdom, on the other hand, seem to be more serene. These wise elders show us what it means to grow old gracefully. By attitude and example, they teach us how to go on growing more and more into our true selves as we age. They are the women and men who wear smiles on their faces; they see with wider eyes, hear with more attentive ears, speak with a more knowing assurance. These are people with soul. No matter their physical condition, they live life with gusto and panache. They are funny, silly, and don’t have to ask permission. They defy the years of their lives and go into the sunset singing and dancing. They exude vigor and excitement with every new day, no matter how many days that may be.
This is not to say oldsters do not have their share of trials and troubles. As we grow old we still have to face all the stumbling stones life shares with us, and the physical reality of aging cannot be forgotten or ignored. But the essential transformation that comes with age is a great deal more than physical well-being. It is the way we look at life. Sister Joan Chittister, author of The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully, says, “age is the moment we come to terms with ourselves. We begin to look inside ourselves. We begin to find more strength in the spirit than in the flesh.”
Sister Joan, on whose thoughts and words this talk is based, tells us that the second half of life is the time when we must begin to look inside our own hearts and souls rather than outside ourselves for the answers to our problems. And although often nothing can be done at this late stage to fix previous rifts, or heal lingering wounds, the pain we still feel can be made productive. This phase of the aging process is the last chance we have to be more than the sum of our early years, whatever mistakes we made, however much hurt we caused and received in turn. We can take off the masks we wear and finally face the darkness and suffering we hid away. These are the years for spiritual reflection, and for spiritual renewal. We can come eye to eye with our own souls, admit who we are, and bring ourselves into the light and the fullness of our humanity.
As we move into old age we eventually reach a crossroad; the point in life where we make the kind of decisions that will determine the quality of our remaining years. This the time when we determine how we want to express our personal place in a new environment, what defines our days and motivates us to continue moving forward. It’s the time when we are free: free to be ourselves, and free to explore deeper, richer, more important things than we ever did before. We are free to see ourselves as unique, discovering that in many ways we are far more important now that at any time in our previous life.
When we embrace and accept aging as necessary for growth, as Dr. Bick counseled, we begin to see the world differently. We see that it is to be treasured, explored, enjoyed. We look at people differently, too –– as individuals, not as useful connections or problems to deal with, or as someone against whom we measure our own value.
When we embrace and accept aging we see life through new eyes, as something to value for itself. The blessing of these years is the transformation of the self; to be, in the second half of life, the self we were searching for in the first half –– the very personification of life lived to the fullest.
Life changes. In fact, the very essence of life is change. In Sister Joan’s words, “It is of the spiritual character of life to make demands, to bring new challenges, to goad us into living it. But that life changes is not the issue. Change is obvious. It will come whether we like it or not. Whether we admit it or not. Whether we want it or not.”
The real issue is whether we are going to let change destroy us. The attitude we carry into old age determines the spiritual depth with which we start this new phase. Do we choose to begin a new kind of life free of the strictures of the old, a life where we can be a gift to the world in some way? Or do we enter this end period with a scowl on our face, full of bitterness, dried up, angry, and resisting the blessings being offered to us? Do we choose to be less than what we are meant to be, or do we choose to continue to grow in new ways, making sense of what has gone before and transforming ourselves into unique, whole, spiritual beings?
No matter what our age today, it is time for all of us to let go of both our fantasies of eternal youth and our fears of getting older. Now is the time to find the beauty of what it means to age gracefully; to understand that the last phase of life is not non-life but rather a new stage of life. The older years –– years when we are reasonably active, mentally alert, experienced and curious, socially important and spiritually significant –– these years are meant to be good years.
Old age, a time of supposed disengagement, is exactly the moment when we become most important to the world around us. We are beyond the first half of life, the stage of being simply another replaceable part in life. We have entered the second half of life, when we and everything we believe in or know about or understand cannot be replaced or undone.
It can, however, continue to grow into a new phase of spiritual development that is meant to be more than simply the ongoing development of the self. Otherwise, as Sister Joan points out, how do we explain all this experience, all this insight we bring to the finish line? It cannot be for nothing. We cannot reach this point in our lives just for the emptiness of living out whatever days we have left. Old age has to be about something, about some form of service for our own sake and for the sake of the entire human community.
But, the service of elders is not a service of labor; it is the service of enlightenment, of the wise discernment of spirit. Our elders have lived through both the good and bad decisions of the past; they hold the memories of the world and the wisdom of the ages. They are free enough and maybe even bold enough to tell the truth, those who no longer have anything to lose by speaking out. The wisest of our elders are the prophets of society, our moral compass, our truth-tellers, and our story tellers.
The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote:
“Nothing is more dishonorable than the old, heavy with years, who have no other evidence of having lived long except age.”
Our role in our elder years is to be what we have discovered about life. Our understandings about life are unique. As elders, our responsibilities, and our blessings, are the things of the soul: the roles of thinker, philosopher, interrogator, arbitrator, wise woman and man.
The second half of life presents us with the opportunity to develop increased depth, integrity, and character –– or not. The choice is always ours. We can choose to give up on life, to refuse to be more, or we can choose to enter old age with wisdom and grace. Personally, I choose to go as gracefully as I can and follow the advice of poet Robert Browing, who said:
“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which he first was made.”
Accepting and embracing the 2nd half of life gracefully can be a challenge. How do we know what our role in life is as we move into our elder years? Do we give up on life, or can we choose to experience aging with wisdom and grace? Join us as we continue our examination of what it means to grow into the 2nd half of life.
This week’s reading is from the book The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully by Sister Joan Chittister.
“. . . perhaps the most important dimension of aging well lies in the awareness that there is a purpose to aging. There is a reason for old age, whatever our state of life, whatever our social resources. There is intention built into every stage of life, no less this one than any other. Old age enlightens –– not simply ourselves, as important as that may be, but those around us as well. Our task is to realize that. In fact, the end-time of life is one of its best, one of its most important. The question is, why?
To insist on living fully until we die may be one of life’s greatest virtues. It is easy at any age simply to stop, to be satisfied with what is, to refuse to be more. But when we go on working at something, for some reason, for someone, for something greater than ourselves –– when we go on giving ourselves away right to the very end –– we have lived a full life.
This is, in fact, the very definition of fullness of life. For some people, it means watering the flowers every day of their lives. For others, it means continuing to write, to practice the piano, to prepare to make the world a better place before we go because we have been there.
. . . retirement does not free us from the responsibility to go on tending the world. What’s more, the work we do after we retire is not useless, valueless work simply because it is not paid labor. On the contrary. This may, in fact, be the first moment in our lives when we are really free to choose work that brings out the best in us, and so brings out the best in the world around us. We become co-creators of the world.
Each period of life has its own purpose. This later one gives us the time to assimilate all the others. The task of this period of life is not simply to endure the coming of the end of time. It is to come alive in ways we have never been alive before. These years are for the development of the soul.”
This service was originally aired on September 13, 2020.