Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Yesterday, Susan Stabile in reflecting on the End Times observed that one problem with predictions about the end of the world (aside from their unreliability) is that they encourage people to stop pressing for the Kingdom of God on earth. Her post reminded me of Joan Chittister’s outstanding book The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully. Chittister speaks to many groups in this book, but she particularly addresses the old person who has retired, who has lost identity and tight connections to the workplace, who is painfully aware that death is much closer than she would like it to be, and who thinks that her real life is over. Chittister regards this as dying in spirit while physically alive. She maintains that old age should be a time of adventure, a time to do things you never have done before, a time of responsibility, a time to help others in ways you could not do before and a time to share the wisdom gathered by so many years of experience, a time of wonder and thanksgiving, a time to appreciate the beauty of creation and the gift of life left to be lived. Chittister argues that old age is special not only as a new stage in life, but also because there is no escaping the need to confront the meaning of life by being caught up in the competitive distractions of the drive for money, status, and power in the workaday world. Old age is a time to deepen the spirituality developed or ill-developed over a lifetime.
The book also speaks to those who are not yet old. It has wise things to say about the preparation for old age, about the meaning of life and spiritual depth, and, although she does not mention it, I think that it has something to say about how a Christian should approach the Sabbath. But this is not a Christian book in its focus (though Chittister is a Catholic and all Christians should find it appealing). As Tikkun editor, Michael Lerner writes, “The Gift of Years is an amazing compendium of wisdom not only for people facing aging or providing support, but for everyone who wants to live a spiritually centered and balanced life.”