On the Gifts of Aging – A Meditation on the Inverse Proportionality of Physical Aging and Spiritual Vigor
We live in an age where youth is celebrated and aging is lamented. Generations ago, age was the “hoary crown of wisdom,” the elders were reverenced and the young stood when they entered. But in this age of the visual, this age of television, everything is reversed. I remember a line from a song (by The Who) when I was a teenager which said, “Hope I die before I get old.”
The Photo at right is me at 5 years old, my dad to the right was 38, my grandfather was 68. All three of us were named “Charles Evans Pope.” Now they’re both gone on, and its just me. The world laments age and death, But as I look at this photo I rejoice for them and myself. They were men of faith, their journey is done, and my is well past noon. And as I journey in their wake, I marvel at what the Lord is doing for me.
Yes, as for me, I must say, I’m glad I’m getting older. I know, you’ll say, “At 50 you’re just a child.” But I am not child, I’m half past dying and celebrating that God has brought me a mighty long way. Yes, I’ve discovered that the gifts of God have come more alive in me as my youthful vigor has dissipated. I see those old pictures of myself in my twenties, looking young, tan and trim, now I’m old(er), white and fat. But though my body has gone south for the winter of life, now my soul has come alive as never before.
St. Paul says, Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).
Yes, indeed, I am a witness. I have to admit, my body isn’t exactly wasting away (it actually tends to gain weight), but it surely is not the sound sleek body of my youth. But this I can surely attest, my inmost self is being renewed and strengthened with each passing day. I have become more prayerful, more joyful at what God is doing, more aware of his presence and his ways. I am seeing sins put to death and better things come alive.I am less fearful, more confident, less angry, more serene.
Inverse proportionality – Yes, even though my physical stamina is less, I get winded climbing stairs now, my spiritual strength is better than ever. At age 50, I am more alive than I was at age 20. Glory be to God! I would never want to be 20 again, the Lord has just brought me too far and done too much for me, to ever want to set the clock back again. A few particulars occur to me that suggest an inverse proportion between youthful vigor and spiritual growth.
- My physical eyesight has become very poor. I am quite crippled without my glasses now. Until forty I did not wear glasses at all. But since forty I have come to place where, without my glasses everything is just a hazy blur. And yet, I spiritually see things I never did before. The word of God jumps off the page in new ways. There are new insights, new enlightenment as to what God is saying. I rejoice in this new inner vision that has come upon me in this second half of my life and I look with great expectation to the even deeper vision He will give me as I age.
- My hearing has become poorer with the onset of middle age. I have had a certain hearing loss since birth but now it becomes worse. But here too, I have learned to listen more attentively and to look at others while they speak. This connects me more deeply to them.
- I also have new insights into the people I am privileged to know. I have come to appreciate how wonderfully quirky we all are and how closely related our gifts are to our deficits. Though my physical vision is poor, my insight into the glory and the struggle of those closest to me is a gift I appreciate and hope to see grow even more with the passing years.
- Even as my physical hearing has diminished, my spiritual hearing has become far more acute. I hear things in God’s word I never did before. I hear God speaking to me on my spiritual walk with greater sensitivity. We have very good lectors and a marvelous choir in my parish and I marvel at what I hear from them each Sunday. Faith comes by hearing, and as I age I am more sensitive to what I hear at Mass and in sacred moments. When I was young, I was tuned out at Mass. The priest was just “some dude” up there talking and the Choir, well they weren’t singing rock, so what did it matter. But God has opened my ears as I have aged to appreciate his voice in newer and wider ways. Thanks be to God. He speaks to me throughout my day and I hear his voice more consistently.
- As I age, I am less physically able to accomplish things I once did on my own. I now fear heights and can’t climb tall ladders. I have a hard time lifting heavy things without injury. But all this has made me more humble and more appreciative of the help that others can give. Gratitude and an proper sense of interdependence are a gift I have discovered with age. In the gift of age God has helped me be more grateful and connected to others.
- As I age and become less physically “glorious,” I appreciate more deeply the beauty and glory of Creation. Indeed, it astounds me in new ways. Each new discovery shouts out the glory of God to me. I am far more appreciative of the present glory of God than I ever was as a youth, when the focus was more on me. Now simple things, like the color purple, the magnificence of Spring, the quiet still after a heavy snow, the wonder and awe created by watching a science channel show on the mysteries of the deep oceans. As I have become more vincible and fragile with age, the world far more astonishes me and makes me cry, Glory to God!
- As I have aged I have discovered limitations. But this has made more humble and understanding of the struggles of others. When I was young I was impatient. There was little I could not do, or at lost thought I could not do. But, now, experiencing more of my limits I have seen compassion and understanding awaken in me, patience too.
- As I have aged, I am more easily fatigued. I usually need an afternoon nap and am blessed to be able to take one, living as I do “above the store.” It’s the only way I can get through my evening appointments. Yet, what a gift a nap is. I am mindful of Psalm 127 which says, In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat; for the Lord pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber (v. 4). Yes, God does pour his gifts on us even when we slumber. And as I age a I grateful even for the gift of a brief rest.
More could be said. I am glad to be getting just a bit older. I am running to meet God, and every day brings me closer. I can’t wait to see Him. I am like a child in Mid December who can’t wait for Christmas morning. That the days speed by more quickly only increases the longing for me. Each day, each step, closer to God.
And while my body goes south, my soul looks up. The weaker my physical flesh, the stronger my spirit and soul. The weaker my eyes, the deeper my spiritual vision and insight. The duller my physical hearing, the more intent my spiritual ears. God is good, he takes the one gift and returns another and greater gift.
And the best is yet to come! The Gospel today was of the man born blind who came to see, and God said to me at Mass today, in the words of a Gospel song, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Scripture affirms: Beyond these, many things lie hid; only a few of his works have we seen (Sirach 43:34).St. Paul says, When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Cor 13:11-12)
I’m running to meet God. Age is a glorious thing, bring it on!
This song says, Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus. (As the deer longs for running water, so longs my soul for you, O God). The text is from Psalm 42:1 I would compare the song to a musical sigh. Palestrina has captured well the longing of the human heart for God here. Another gift that I think comes with age.