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Monday, November 23 2015 10:01

GROWING OLDER SPIRITUALLY

 

“Until now, aging has been unwelcome for the vast majority of us.”

So write the authors of a newly published book. “The Spirituality of Age.”  They are addressing themselves to older people—especially the baby boomer generation—who want to live more deeply but are not quite sure how to do it.

One of the authors, Bob Weber is a close friend of mine.  A Cambridge-based clinical psychologist, he brings to this book a long professional experience and a particular commitment to older people.

He also brings his own spiritual history. As a young man, he entered the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits.  Ten years later, he made the difficult decision to leave the society before taking the step of priestly ordination. However, he took with him a deep knowledge of Jesuit spirituality, whose influence is clearly evident in this book.

His co-author, Carol Orsborn, is currently based in Tennessee. Much of her career has been in marketing, but at heart she is a teacher and writer who has always been engaged in fundamental issues.

Carol grew up Jewish, and gained an early respect for spiritual masters. As a student in nineteen-sixties Berkeley, she encountered alternative spiritualities. In midlife, she completed a doctorate in the history and critical theory of religion.

The authors agree that current commentaries on aging are too often marked by avoidance (as in anti-aging ad campaigns) or false optimism, which denies the realities of sickness, loss, and death. They propose to help us to “embrace the shadow side of aging as well as the spiritual opportunities inherent in growing older.”

Happily they avoid dogmatic pronouncements.  They have not written a set of rules for successful aging.  Rather, they pose twenty-five questions which each author answers separately and differently. These differences are a signal to us, the readers, that we are free to develop our own responses.

I leave you to explore these responses yourselves, but here are a few of the questions. I found them both tantalizing and challenging.  

 “How have your notions of the Divine matured since you were a child?”

“What illusions does aging dispel?”

“What can you accept about yourself that you previously disowned?”

“How can spiritual maturity equip us to face our own unknowns?”

I am impressed with how well the authors have drawn on the world’s great spiritual traditions. They do not hesitate to cite the great Muslim poet Rumi, and the American Catholic monk Thomas Merton, among many others.

Throughout their book, Carole and Bob feel comfortable in mentioning God. At the same time, they recognize that some of their readers who are interested in spirituality avoid this term.

They also recognize that some of their readers may accept spirituality while rejecting religion.  Religious groups, after all, have sometimes violated true commitment to the divine.

Whatever their degree of religious or spiritual commitment readers would do well to read this book in stages, not all at once.  It should be read slowly and thoughtfully, taking time to reflect on the questions and engage with them.

Readers will not want to miss the appendix of this book, which proposes an array of fascinating and deeply practical spiritual exercises, or the recommended readings, which feature many names that I know and admire.

“The Spirituality of Aging” will certainly find itself on many recommended reading lists from now on.  I am grateful to Carol and Bob for what they have done, not only in affirming the immense possibilities of old age, but in engaging their readers in a challenging and rewarding effort to realize those possibilities in their own lives.