This week, I am helping lead a retreat at Suttle Lake. There are three of us leading. The other two leaders, Kate and Michael, have been leading this retreat for over thirty years. Last year, they decided it might be time to invite someone new into the mix, so they asked our camp director, Jane Petke for suggestions. Jane generously suggested they give me a call. Many of the participants have been coming a long time, but there are always one or two new people who find their way here each fall.
The schedule of days is a lovely balance. We worship three times per day together. In the morning, we meet before breakfast and Kate leads us as we sing, read the day’s scripture and share communion. At 11:00 a.m., I am teaching Centering Prayer. Then at 5:00 p.m., Michael takes us through our scripture in more depth, as we dwell together in the meaning of the text. After dinner, there is a program based on a book that is chosen by the leaders each year. The rest of the time is up to the individual. Hiking, resting, reading, conversation, jig saw puzzles—or just sitting in the sunshine breathing deeply of the pine scented air.
The program this year is based on a book by Sister Joan Chittister entitled: The Gift of Years: Growing older gracefully. The title might give you a hint as to the age group of our participants. (I am one of the few folks not retired.) But it is an excellent book, that Sr. Joan wrote the year she turned 70. She realized that her life was moving into a new place, an unexplored place, and she wanted to prepare for it with grace.
In one chapter, Chittister quotes Meribel Le Sueur, who in her nineties wrote: I am luminous with age. Oh! I want to be that too!
When I was young, I sometimes visited a nursing home with an adult friend. Some of the folks were simply lovely, but others were difficult to talk to—they were downright cranky. After we had done some visitation, one of the workers at the center taught me something that I have never forgotten. She said, people don’t change who they are when they reach old age—the just become more of who they have been all along. Whoever I have practiced being for all the years of my life, is who I become when I am old. Just MORE. There are no filters. All the world can now see who it is you have spent your life practicing to be. I want to be the old lady in the nursing home (if I have to be in a nursing home) whom all the nurses and staff love. So much so, that they save me all the extra chocolate pudding! I’m not quite that adorable yet, but I’m working on it.
Now that I am a person of a certain age, I am beginning to get notices online and in the mail about Medicare and old age supplemental insurance. There is no avoiding it. I’m getting older. And I am starting to reflect about what it is that I have been becoming all these decades that are now in the past, and who I still hope to become as my life enters into unknown territory.
When an infant is born, she is born spiritually naked. Totally vulnerable. Fully knowable. Open and waiting to be shaped. Nothing is hidden. Over time, he learns how to protect himself from harm. She layers protective shields to defend heart and mind and soul. It is necessary if any of us is to survive in a rough and tumble world. In time, we become very good at hiding who we are on the inside from the dangers of the outside. We become opaque with barriers between ourselves each other, between ourselves and the world, and sometimes between ourselves and whoever it is who is hiding deep within. I wonder, if part of the process of aging, at least from the perspective of the spirit, is that we go through a kind of reversal. We strip away layer after layer after hard-won layer—to once again be a naked spiritual being. Transparent. Whole. Revealed as we truly are. Consonant. Cohesive. The inner life and the outer life are in sync. We are luminous with old age.
There is a sense where coming to the place in my life where I am becoming “more” is a relief. I can drop all my well-intentioned protections and simply be who God is calling me to be. I’ve been practicing. It isn’t always easy. But, Oh! My beloved! Just imagine—all of us together, luminous, kind, funny, forgiving, resilient, brave, compassionate—what a beautiful sight to behold.