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Ripening

September, 2017 


Three years ago, my wife and I celebrated several 50th year anniversaries: we celebrated our 50th marriage anniversary, we celebrated my seminary’s class 50th year reunion, and we celebrated my wife’s 50th year graduation from Milwaukee Downer College. It proved to be a very joyful and gratifying time for us.

 

Memories from the past, once again saw the light of day. Old colleagues and friends gathered together.

Recollections of fun times and challenging times resurfaced. Old stories got retold, often with new and interesting embellishments. And, most amazingly: shared-wisdom and life-learnings got acknowledged and valued.

 

For some reason, there was something of a surprise in all of this. Often with aging come some expected physical decline and other un-expected trials. But, more significantly, there is an aura of melancholy and stigma attached to the act of aging in our western culture.

 

A few years ago, John Gurda, wrote a fun editorial in the Milwaukee Journal about growing old. He defined aging as “The process whereby your primary doctor hands you off to a specialist after specialist until all that’s left is to do an autopsy.” [1]

 

I recently heard ecologist, Jared Diamond, do a TED talk on how societies can grow old better. He acknowledged that the numbers of the elderly are growing, as the numbers of young people lessen. He said seniors are often experienced as a burden to their families and society. Diamond countered these tendencies by suggesting that older people are actually better than younger people at some things like “supervising, administering, advising, strategizing, teaching, synthesizing and devising long-term plans.”

 

He continued, “I’ve seen this value of older people with so many of my friends in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, who are still active as investment managers, farmers, lawyers, and doctors.”

 

In this morning’s Epistle to the Roman’s, St. Paul gives us a healthy understanding about life’s aging process. He says, “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 

Putting that into a context for today, I hear St. Paul telling us that…

 

we do not have to be put-off by our culture’s disrespect for aging; but rather we should value the aging process as a journey of continual transformation; a journey where our minds are being continually renewed; and our discernment of what is good is being perfected more and more.”

 

I want to tell you that what I am experiencing in my retirement years is a deepening  sense of wonder, and am enriching appreciation for the gifts that life has given to me. I am now less concerned about all my past ego needs for attainment, appreciation and affluence. What a relief!

 

Franciscan monk, Richard Rohr, has written helpful material about the goodness of the second half of life. In his best-selling book, Falling Upwards, Rohr observes that in the first half of life we gain an ego-identity by being “good soldiers.” We listen to and adhere to the requisites of order and cultural and religious expectations. We build a unique self that competes in the markets of the world.

 

And then, somewhere around age 55-70 (it different for everyone), in the second half of our life, we discover that the ego-self has only gained an identity so that it can be given away to serve. We gradually replace our ego-identity with a soul-identity. We discover and begin to practice the art of “letting go.” We die to live, and we live to die. Jesus makes this axiom the center piece of his teaching when he proclaims, “If you hold on to your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life (i.e. your ego-self) for my sake and the Gospel you will find it.”

 

As we age we have the opportunity to use our time to volunteer in our communities and churches. Using the wisdom that aging brings, we can mentor those who are younger, who struggle with the need to discern identity and meaning in their lives.

 

In his editorial on aging, John Gurda spoke of two particular benefits in aging. First, he said as we grow old we “develop an entirely different relationship with time. As our past outweighs our future by an ever-widening margin, we realize how little time there has always been, and how quickly it passes. The trek from puberty to old age seems much shorter than we ever expected.” He says, “Sometimes I feel like the guy in a saloon at closing time, and I want to say, ‘What do you mean it’s time to leave? I’ve still got half a beer and all my change is on the bar.’” Second, Gurda said that, as we age there is a “vastly enlarged rearview mirror.” We now become the historians of the past. That is so true. I, personally remember who got the first color TV in our congregation when I was serving at St. Luke’s in Racine; it was Rhoda, our parish secretary, and we were all very jealous. I remember the ticker-tape parade down Wisconsin Avenue in 1965 when our Milwaukee Braves won the world series. I remember the bacon-fat sandwiches we ate during the second World War, and the crazy yelling and singing in the streets when that war ended. We seniors are the custodians of the past.

 

We are the ones that understand that those who forget the lessons of the past are destined to repeat history’s worst calamities.

 

In another writing, Richard Rohr compares aging to “ripening.” He says, “Ripening reveals much bigger or very different horizons than we realize. The refusal to ripen leads to what T.S. Eliot spoke of in The Hollow Men, lives that end not with a bang but with a whimper. He says, “Ripening at its best, is a slow, patient learning and it is often a happy letting-go – a seeming emptying out, to create readiness for a new kind of fullness – which we are never sure about….

“At our very best we learn how to hope as we ripen, to move outside and beyond self-created circles, which is something quite different from the hope of the young. Youthful hopes have concrete goals, whereas the hope of older years is usually hope without goals, even naked hope – perhaps real hope.”[2]

 

We tend to dread ripening. But we are created; we are designed to ripen. And to our surprise ripening ends up being a kind of resurrection to an unexpected newness.

 

English professor, Chris Ellery captures the idea that ripening brings unexpected surprises in his poem,

 

The Ripe and the Unripe Fruit

In the season of sweet melon and cantaloupe,

The grapes cannot know their own luscious ripeness,

The heavy readiness to let go of the vine.

 

The green wheat, just beginning to sprout,

Like some poor child, all vanity and ego,

Thinks it wants to be young forever.

When pistachios crackle open

By moonlight, they are joyfully sighing,

Why did we not know? [3]

 

May we all be blessed in our aging and in or ripening. May we discover that the best of our lives is yet to come.



[1] Gurda, John, Crossroads in MJS, September 2, 2012.

[2] Rohr, Richard in Ripening from the journal, Oneing: An Alternative Orthodoxy (2013, page 12).

[3] Ellery, Chris, from The Big Mosque of Mercy (2010, Ink Brush Press).

+Ed


2017

September: Ripening

August: Seeing can be Believing

July: Jesus' Kingdom Parables

June: In the Beginning was Relationship

April: Fasting from; Feasting on

March: Holding On & Letting Go

February: Paying Attention

January: To Live the Impossible Dream


2016

December: A Theology of Creation 1

December: A Theology of Creation 2

December: A Theology of Creation 3

November: On Being Wrong

October: On Humility

September: The Sin and Folly of being "Great"

August: Fear Does Not have to be a Crippling Spirit

July: Fight, Flee or Love?

May: Singing a New Song


2015

January: Leaning Clean and Lean into the New Year

February: Confronting the Growing Divides

March/April: A Moral Bucket List


2014

January: Hunger Games

February:State of the "Union" Inventories

March: On Being Wrong and Getting it Right

April: April Showers and the Mystery of Transformation

May: Listening to Each Other's Stories

June: Celebrating Aging

July/August: Twists and Turns

September: Life-Giving Questions

October: Character Building

November: Ripening

December: The Great Political Divide


 2013

December: Re-envisioning Reality

November: Falling Leaves

October: Gap Awareness

September: Don't Worry Be Happy

August: The Law

July: Transforming Masculine Archetype

June: Ageing's Surprizing Gateways

Lent: On Fasting