Nurturing Elders & Others
Hatching the Aging Heart: Spiritual Break-Throughs by Geezers
By the Rev. Paul Graves | Illustration by Jesse N. Love

A few months before my father’s unexpected death, his primary doctor challenged him. Because of increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, Dad’s walking was becoming more difficult for him. At this particular appointment, the doctor simply said, “Bob, I think it’s time you think about getting a four-wheel walker.”

Dad’s reluctance was immediate: “But that’s a step backward.” “No Bob,” his doctor said, “It’s actually a step forward. If you don’t use a walker, your walking will become more and more difficult.” We went out that very day and bought a walker!

For the last few columns, I’ve touched on various reasons for older adults to keep spiritually active. My bias is if we don’t push ourselves to nourish a sense of inner adventure, curiosity, creativity, and wonder, we will likely wither on the spiritual vine. That benefits no one – not us, nor those close to us. It also betrays the trust God has in us.

At the February meeting of the Conference Council on Ministries, we decided to offer a series of workshops to clusters of churches around the Conference. These three-hour workshops would focus on various topics we think would be pertinent to older adults and the ministries they are involved in.

The first focus we decided on is generically called “spiritual formation.” It can take a variety of forms, of course. I will test a shortened version of one possible workshop at the Inland District’s Rocks and Ripples on April 13.

I call it “Hatching the Aging Heart: Spiritual Break-Throughs for Geezers”. The image of geezers-in-waiting (in your ‘50’s), geezers-in-training (in your ‘60’s and ‘70’s), and bona-fide geezers (whatever age you choose) breaking out of a spiritual eggshell is a fun image for me to consider!

It takes a special kind of courage to have “done your part” in the church or community and still want to grow in your faith. It would be – and too often is – too easy to dismiss any idea of growing when you have no idea when your energy will slow down and your interests outside of your own life are diminishing.

But that is precisely the time to realize you may be going into a shell. You may be closing the world off, too tired or uninterested enough to care. You may even be unintentionally closing your heart off from the wisdom-gifts God still has for you to experience.

I first discovered a delightful image, “hatching the heart”, when reading Marcus Borg’s special book The Heart of Christianity. He borrowed the image from Frederick Buchner’s novel “Goodrich” and our editor, Jesse Love redrew it for my column here in Channels.

This metaphor – hatching out of a spiritual eggshell – is certainly a useful way to remember that we’re never too old to break through with new wisdom and insight about what life is about. Borg says this on the hatching idea:

“The shell needs to be broken open if the life within it is to enter into full life…if the heart is not hatched, we die. The hatching of the heart — the opening of the self to God, the sacred – is a comprehensive image for the individual dimension of the Christian life.” (p. 154, The Heart of Christianity)

His metaphor isn’t aimed at older adults, but I think we are right in the “line of fire” of its truths. Just because we have gray hair and wrinkles doesn’t mean we’ve stopped growing spiritually. Oops! I should say those features don’t mean we have to stop growing spiritually.

In fact, I can make the case that this time in our lives is a wonderful time to reach within us and see what surprising passions and sense of purpose still lay within our souls. This intentional conversation about breaking through the shell we encase ourselves could be exciting.

We might discover that we’ve shelled ourselves with so many older ways of thinking about God, Jesus, others, and ourselves that breaking through our hardened routines is difficult to do. I’ll bet a baby chick has difficulty breaking through its shell. But what a new life it experiences once outside.

The same goes for us!

The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries.

Channels 62

Channels 62, April 2012 is NOW AVAILABLE!
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