Nurturing Elders and Others
Spiritual maturity needs “spizzerinctum” and “sprezzatura”!
By the Rev. Paul Graves

In his 2011 book “A Lever and A Place to Stand”, Richard Rohr offers this profound challenge to older adults:

Scientists are now saying that the neural grooves that you prefer and use become ingrained patterns in the brain. If we cease thinking alternatively, then alternative ways of thinking die. And so the neural grooves that you prefer to use take over by the time you are in your forties and fifties. And that is probably why a lot of old people are not very interesting: they have four or five remaining neural grooves, and you know what they are going to say before they say it. There is no originality and no freshness and no immediacy of response, and therefore there is no seeing.

“Ouch!” That was my first inner response when I read Rohr’s words some months ago. “Ouch” is still my response as I reread this paragraph. We’ve been “found out” by one of our aging peers. When we settle into whatever “retirement” means to us, it is too easy to turn off our brains and our spirits.

We’re tempted to just coast along, letting someone else do the tough work of living and staying vital. “We’ve done our part” — maybe referring to activity in the church or community or even in our own families. That’s a decision that gives into the inevitability of death, so why fight it!

On the same page of the above quote, Rohr champions the spiritual disciplines of meditation and contemplation (the book’s main purpose). “With meditation or contemplation, I think we have every likelihood of producing actual elders for the next generation and for the church, and not just elderly people”. (p. 103)

When Bishop Cal McConnell was our episcopal leader in the early ‘90’s, he introduced a word new to many of us: “SPIZZERINCTUM.” I love the sounds of words, particularly those words have an underlying significance to their silly sounds. “Spizzerinctum” is one of those words.

So is SPREZZATURA. Put your own faux Italian accent into it and see how fun it is to say! But it too has a significant meaning beyond its fun pronunciation. Both “spizzerinctum” and “sprezzatura” are found in the life of Jesus and, I trust, in the lives of those who try to follow Jesus most faithfully.

I came upon spizzerinctum and sprezzatura in Leonard Sweet’s over-the-top book “The Gospel According to Starbucks”. He pushes his readers to fully participate in what God is doing in this world. To illustrate that participation, he interprets these two wonderful, crazy-sounding words.

Sweet describes SPIZZERINCTUM as “Holy Boldness”. It is a word from Appalachian culture. Its closest synonym may be “chutzpah” (or “holy boldness”). Then he uses a number of Gospel stories to illustrate Jesus’ spizzerinctum. Jesus responded to the spontaneity of whatever “interrupted” his day with what I still call God’s Radical Hospitality.

In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul reminds us “For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice” but of holy boldness. Leonard Sweet then reminds us that “spizzerinctum involves the habit of saying ‘yes’ to the moment. Jesus received each moment as a gift, less going after what he wanted, but wanting what came to him.” What a gift indeed!

SPREZZATURA becomes a traveling companion to spizzerinctum on the journey toward spiritual maturity. It is an antidote to the risk-free desire of most Christians today. In Sweet’s words:

“The key to sprezzatura is paradox, the audacious algebra of the spiritual, the natural language of faith. If one reason why the church isn’t the most creative place around, it’s the fear of living with contradictions…Sprezzatura is the magic word that opens heaven’s doors and lets out Truth.” (p. 91)

Too often, our spiritual journeys are mapped out knowing where the next warming hut will be — what the Sunday service will be like, sound like, or smell like. We find comfort in the sameness of our lives. Yet that sameness can suffocate our spirits.

Jesus didn’t know where he would lay his head on a given night. He received each moment as a gift, less going after what he wanted, but wanting what came to him. He had both Spizzerinctum and Sprezzatura.

If we want to follow Jesus, why do we settle for less? Being older is no excuse for wanting less.

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

New Beginnings

New Beginnings: The Gifts of Aging (D4335)
Want a visual picture of “Spizzerinctum” and “Sprezzaturra” in action? Check out this DVD with its inspiring stories of creative older adults engaged in life-giving service and ministry to others. Let this video spark ideas for your church’s ministry with older adults.  To reserve this video now, e-mail The Regional Media Center.

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