"There is a thin line between memory and nostalgia," writes Sister Joan. 

"Memory," she explains, "is recollection.  Good memories make us laugh on gray days and bring us old warmth on cold nights.  They gather around us all the ghosts of yesterday we need to urge us on.  They enable us to have faith in the future because they remind us that the past has been so life-giving, so full of hope in all the tomorrows of life...memories do not so much immerse us in the past as they prod us toward the future."  

"Nostalgia is something different entirely."  More from Sister Joan:  "Nostalgia is not simply recollection of the past.  Nostalgia is immersion in the past.  Nostalgia traps us, one foot in the present, one foot in yesterday.  But the melancholy of nostalgia is not the geography of old age.  Possibility is."

Memory is a powerful thing.  It lives in us and, in many ways, we live by it.  HOW the past lives in us is of paramount importance.  Remembrance can drain the present of vitality and possibility just as easily as it can enliven us and engage us with what is and is yet to be.  What makes the difference?

I don't think it's age...although age presents us with greater temptation to nostalgia as the bank of memory grows and the timeline of the future shortens.  But age in itself is not the issue.  When I think of the times in my life that I have become pre-occupied with things past (whether good or bad) it was always accompanied with a loss of confidence and an overconfidence.  A loss of confidence in my ability to unearth the possibilities resident in the present...and an overconfidence that there were no possibilities worth unearthing.

Faith, hope, trust...these habits of the heart come to mind when I think of antidotes to nostalgia.  I love that description of Abraham we read this past Sunday in Worship.  "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he as called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out not knowing where he was going."  (Hebrews 11:8).  Resisting the temptation to nostalgia  is not achieved by simply trying to forget.  It always requires a deliberate, practical, concrete engagement with the present even when it's not at all clear what lies ahead.  Only then do we remember well.

P.S.  It's interesting to note that the word 'nostalgia' comes from two Greek words, 'nostos' which means "home" and 'algos' which means 'pain.'.  Nostalgia is a longing for home that was rather than the home that is yet to be.  


"What we fail too often to realize is that living fully depends a great deal more on our frame of mind, on our fundamental spirituality, than it does on our physical condition.  If we see God as good, we see life as good.   If we see God as a kind of sly and insidious Judge, tempting us with good things in order to see if we can be seduced into some sort of moral depravity by them, then life is a trap to be feared."  So writes Sister Joan in today's reading.

Today's reading brought to mind the quote that opened the movie, Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick:  “The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.  Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.”

I think it's the last sentence that was hooked and surfaced by my reading of Sister Joan:  "And love is smiling through all things."  There was a time when I would have brushed aside that sentiment as nothing but sentimentality.  The same with the quote above from Sister Joan.  I now regard such sentiments as descriptive of what it means to be fully alive.  To embody the kind of immediacy that Sister Joan is calling us to.

It is naming the mystery of being fully in the skin of the moment and at the same time feeling an unmistakable sense of transcendence.  That experience of losing oneself and being found all at the same time.  For too many years I lived with view of God that conditioned me to a sense of "life as a trap to be feared."  I have long felt it was Jennifer who sprung me from that trap.  Other moments come to mind.  Holding our firstborn, Julia, for the first time, her eyes opening to see me, her crying stilled.  Being overwhelmed by love that is friendship when sitting at the table of a dear, aged, friend knowing that it may be the last time in this life we will be at table together.  Moments when the immediacy of grace was revealed.

Where have those moments been for you?  When?  With whom?  When, whatever moment we may be in feels utterly opaque to the goodness of God...when the way of grace feels completely alien to the path we are is those moments of grace beyond question we need to recall--they are not exceptions to reality--they the touchstones of reality.  



Playfulness, curiosity, innocence, laughter...skipping, jumping, dancing, laying down on the ground and rolling down the hill, doing somersaults...there is a kind of un-self-conscious abandon to life and experience resident in children that is wonderful to behold.  While aging does make somersaults a thing of the past, there is much of the childlike embrace of life that is ageless.

Here's a contrast worth considering:  children on a playground and adults in a fitness center.  Lots of people in close proximity to one another and lots of activity and physical exertion in both places.  But the big difference, one that would be utterly mystifying to a young child observing a room full of adults at the local LA Fitness for the first time, is that none of the adults are playing with each other.  And nobody is laughing.  Such are the playgrounds of us adults..."working" out, as we say.

I do miss the call to play my children sounded on a regular basis.  What often felt like a distraction from important tasks now appears as a life-line.  I remember going into my study in our home one afternoon.  No doubt to take up some important work like preparing a sermon for adults!  I must have been in there for 20 minutes or so, when all of a sudden I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, five year old James, as still as he could be, curled up and tucked away under a desk to my left.  Just waiting to surprise me.  I remember that moment because I think I was more perturbed that my train of brilliant thought had been derailed than that my little boy was calling me to play.  A higher calling indeed.  

Sister Joan writes, "Intergenerational friendships between an older generation and a younger one are as important to the elder as they are to the child."  Indeed.  "Children release the child in us before it completely withers up and blows away."  Indeed, again.

The life of a congregation is one of the few places these days where all ages mingle together.  In coffee hour I will often feel a tug at my sleeve, I turn, and there is one of the Halliday twins, Andrew or Olivia, saying, "Hi" or another even younger little one, just standing there looking up with a look that says, "I just wanted to say hello."  I bend down and feel lifted up.  The room dances with life.  

It is remarkable how many stories we have of Jesus attending to the children in his midst...and how he didn't condescend to them but called us all to be like them if we were to have any chance of gaining entrance to the Kingdom of God.  "The disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'  Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said, 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.'"  (Matthew 18:1-5)

There will always be time for somersaults and rolling down hillsides in the Kingdom of God!

Day 29: FUTURE

I think I have always lived with a strong consciousness of the future.  Perhaps too much so.  Too often I chose to reside there rather than dwell in the present.  Sometimes my consciousness took the form of playing out futures that I imagined might have come to pass if I had made different choices.  What if, back in 1998 (some of you have heard me play this one out), I had chosen not to leave Paris, France, to take a position in Louisville, Kentucky?  Of course, that's enough trigger anyone's imagination! ("You did what?!" people exclaim, unable to hide their incredulity.) 

Playing out the "What ifs?" of life are one way to opt for the future that never will exist over facing the present and all its resident possibilities.  What a waste.

I think it was Plato who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."  It is David Wood who has learned, "The un-lived life is not worth examining."

My consciousness of the future these days is less focused on the futures that will never be and more on the possibilities of the future that remain.  As Sister Joan writes, "Those who have come roaring into their sixties, full of life, relatively secure, brimming with ideas and finally full of self-confidence, come face-to-face with the meaning of mortality as they have never before.  There is, they discover with a jolt, an end to time."  I'm not sure I came roaring into my sixties...more, like I backed into them!  But here I am and it does feel, as she names it, like a turning point--time to turn towards the future and the fact that, chronologically speaking,  I have less of it than I used to.

I was struck by a short sentence on the last page of today's reading: "Tomorrow is sacred."  The Bible talks a lot about the sacredness "today" of our lives, the holiness of dailiness, than it does about "tomorrow."  (A quick word search of the Old & New Testaments turns up 69 instances of "tomorrow" and 244 instance of "today.")  On one occasion Jesus said, "So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today."  (Matthew 6:34)  On Day 21 in his blog, I wrote about the Genesis account of the consecration of the 7th day.  Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us THIS DAY our daily bread." 

My ability to face the future and to live into its possibilities seems to be bound up with my willingness to face each day as a gift to be discovered.  The sacredness of tomorrow resides in today.  


Besides the ever present, albeit incremental, experience of physical decline, it is the loss of memory that my aging peers fear most.  My guess is, if given the choice, most of us would choose loss of physical ability over loss of memory.  Memory is how we hold ourselves together.  Or perhaps more accurately, memory is the self we hold on to.

Remember, remind, recollect, recall, review....all of these words say something about the power of memory to situate us, to orient us not just to the past but to the present as well.  Losing my memory feels like I am losing myself, my world.

Few things are more precious than when someone says to us, in love, "I will never forget you."  A promise that is at the heart of faith is found in the word of God to us, "I will never forget you.  I will remember you."  It is finally what holds us even when we can no longer hold ourselves.  We are held by others...and, ultimately, by the Other.  

Memories can undo us as well.  They can bind us to the past in ways that are detrimental to the flourishing of our lives.  When our powers of memory are in full form, forgetfulness can be a liberating thing--an experience of grace.  This is especially so In relation to trauma of some kind--and trauma comes in many forms.  It is unlikely that we ever truly "forget" a traumatic experience.  However, how we remember makes all the difference for how that memory lives in us.  

Sister Joan writes, "The task, of course, is to refuse to make our memories a burden. Instead, the goal is to give them the kind of meaning that makes them precious rather than painful.  What we often fail to realize is that memory is a mental function, yes; but it is also a choice.  We do get to decide which of our memories of a particular time, or person, or place, or moment may shape our life in the present moment."

There is a somewhat enigmatic statement Jesus makes in the Gospel of Matthew:  "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 18:18).  This comes in the context of his instruction on the practice of forgiveness.  In the Gospel of John, when Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection, he says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20: 22-23).  I think scholars are right to see the connection between these two passages.  Forgiveness is a choice to unbind ourselves and others from a certain kind of remembrance.  We can't do this on our own.  We need a community that embodies the living memory of the One who says to us, "I will remember you."  




What it means to be productive is constantly shifting throughout the course of our lives.  Very early on, it becomes related to doing a job and having one. 

The challenge is to not let our notions of productivity, what it means to be productive, to become over-identified with any one phase of our lives.  At the heart of genuine productivity is a personal sense of accomplishment, creativity, and meaningful engagement.  When a job ceases to be productive we are motivated to change the doing that job entails or go in search of another job altogether.  When our experience of work alienates us from ourselves, that work has ceased to be productive.  Mr. Marx had a lot to say about that.

We must remain attentive to our need to be productive even as the meaning of productivity is always in flux throughout the course of our lives.  When visiting my 96 year old friend a few weeks back, I noticed a guitar in his living room propped up next to a music stand.  When I inquired, he told me that he picked it up just a few years ago and has been taking lessons ever since.  As we age, it seems, increasingly, that we have the opportunity to connect the meaning of productivity to a kind of doing that is more internal to ourselves and less a response to external demands. It becomes more an expression of our freedom and less of necessity.  

As Sister reminds us aging types, "Retirement has nothing to do with whether we work or whether we don't.  It has something to do only with the kind of work we do and the reason we do it."  Keeping alive--whatever our age--the vital connection between productivity and what it means for us to be meaningful engaged is crucial if we are to remain productive to the end of our days.

How's that connection working for you these days?

At the end of a chapter on the meaning of the Resurrection, the Apostle Paul writes, "Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (I Corinthians 15:58).  That notion of work and the productivity it implies is worthy of our lives.


How do you experience aloneness?  How we answer this question, according to the philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, is of paramount importance.  "Religion," wrote Whitehead, "is what the individual does with his own solitariness." That's worth pondering sometime when we're alone.

As important as it is to face others, to be in the company of others, there is something no less important than facing ourselves, being alone.  Without friends, aloneness devolves into isolation--aloneness does not create isolation, it simply exposes it as a chronic condition.  Solitude names the experience of aloneness that is centering and live-giving.  It is, in my view, the best way to name the experience of aloneness that is renewing, rejuvenating, and restorative.

Recently, I came across the term, "hikikomori."  It is the term used by the Japanese Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry to define those who have not left their homes (often their bedrooms) or interacted with others for at least 6 months.  Often this condition persists for years.  In a recent study (Sept. 2016), it was reported that, in Japan, there are 541,000 people between the ages of 15 & 39 who suffer from this condition.  That's isolation on steroids.

"Isolation," Sister Joan writes, "is either separation or alienation form the world around us.  Solitude is something quite different.  Solitude is chosen.  It is the act of being alone in order to be with ourselves.  We seek solitude for the sake of the soul.  Even with easy access to other people, we take time to be by ourselves, to close out the rest of the world, to concentrate on the inside of us rather than wrestle with everything going on around us."  She says further on, "In solitude we wait for all the noise to quiet in order to find out what we are really thinking about, what we are really saying to ourselves underneath all the layers of other people's messages that threaten to smother the words of our own heart."  

Among those reading this post, there are some who, at about this point, are thinking, "I need to make more space in my life for aloneness, for the experience of solitude."  Among you who are thinking that way, it probably means creating zones of silence--unplugging from technology, as well as intentionally withdrawing from the ever-present company of others.  For others reading this post, your experience of aloneness is more the norm than the exception.  You go to bed alone, you wake up alone, you eat breakfast alone...etc..etc.  Solitude, in the way I am naming it here is hard to come by--not because of too much company, but of too little.  

For ALL of us reading this post, solitude is a challenge worthy of our best efforts--whether that means intentionally unplugging and withdrawing...or whether it means becoming more intentional about being in the company of others to counter the conditions that generate isolation.

In terms of our knowledge of God, there is a Presence that comes to the foreground in the absence of others which is no less important than the knowledge of God we learn through the presence of others.  Prayer is the practice of the Presence of God.  For all the time Jesus spent with others, there are several occasions where we read of him withdrawing in order to pray:  "Now during those days he went out  to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God."  (Luke 6:12) 

Praying with others as we do each Sunday is preparation for us to pray when we are our solitariness.


Limitations are a manifold thing.  We impose them by choice.  Some are temporary and circumstantial, others permanent and fixed.  Some are built into our nature (I will not be dunking a basketball anytime soon).  Others are imposed upon us by others and need to be resisted.  Some demand to be overcome if we are to flourish in this life, others require our recognition and respect if we are to become our true selves.  Denial of limitations is a denial of our humanity.  Living well in relation to limitations, discerning the difference between them, is at the heart of experiencing the fullness of this life.

When we are young, we can become paralyzed by the limitless possibilities before us.  To put it another way, we can be frozen by the knowledge that to chose one path over another is to close ourselves off from countless other possibilities....and we can be daunted by the knowledge that if we fail to choose, we will be lost wandering in the wilderness of indecision.  

Sitting here in my early 60's the field of choice is considerably narrowed by all the choices I have made heretofore.  And yet, I live with a knowledge I did not have, could not have had, when I was young.  Namely, the knowledge of how making choices would concentrate my life, my existence in particular ways that would open up a whole new field of possibilities for discovery and experience that were impossible to comprehend had I not chosen as I did.  Limitations have a way of concentrating our lives which is what makes life interesting.

Perhaps there is a greater challenge than overcoming our fear of limitations.  It is the challenge of discerning between those limitations that concentrate our lives in purposeful ways and those limitations that are barriers that must be overcome if our lives are to flourish.  

Today, celebrate the limitations that have set you free in this life for life.  Recognize those limitations that are closing you in.

Lord, grant us the wisdom to know the difference and the courage to chose the freedom you make possible in this life.

A POST POST NOTE:  Physicist, Stephen Hawking died last night at the age of 76.  At the age of 21 he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and was given two years to live.  The limitations of life and limb must have been overwhelming.  A fellow scientist I heard interviewed this morning on NPR said, "It was as if his physical limitations concentrated his mind so that he thought bigger things than he otherwise would have, he was able to wrap his mind around things like no one else ever has." 

His life and work give a whole new meaning to the phrase:  "The sky's the limit."

Day 24: DREAMS

Is there anything more mysterious than our dreams?  So many mornings I wake up and think, "What was that?" or "That was weird!"  The images, characters, scenes, and dialogue that so often take place in my dreams are utterly beyond my comprehension.  Things, people, circumstances that are familiar in themselves get thrown together in ways that are completely unfamiliar.  It's like while the body sleeps the brain plays.  Aging does not seem to lessen this playfulness--actually, I think it probably accelerates it because the brain has so much more material to work with.

There are dreams and then there are dreams.  The dreams that Sister Joan is writing about are the kind that are aspirational.  They reside in our imagination and they call to us.  They are crucial to our capacity to hope.  These dreams draw upon the past--which keeps them from simply being fantasy.  But they are not bound to or by the past.  They may begin there but they don't end there.  They play with the past in redemptive ways...they can awaken us to the possibility that what has been does not finally have to determine what will be.

Sister Joan writes, "The very act of reviewing one's own values, then and now, stands as a marker for us all.  It reminds us that it is possible to learn as we go through life.  It is even more important to be open to doing it and willing to report it.  Life grows us.  Life shapes us.  Life converts us.  Life opens us as we age to think differently about ourselves." 

This way of thinking cuts against the grain of assumptions that we ossify with age--that we are diestined to become, simply, the sum total of the choices we have made.  Any dreaming that we (or things) could truly be other is simply wishful thinking.  We stop dreaming.  Or perhaps more accurately, we stop attending to dreams.  Resignation sets in.  A kind of rigor mortis of the soul.  "Aspire" comes from two Latin words:  "To breathe."  

As I was contemplating dreams as a breathing of the soul, I was reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul, "For godly grief produced a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death." (II Corinthians 7:10)  We are never too old (or young for that matter) to awaken to the possibility that things can become new.

Soul-play.  Perhaps that's what dreams are a sign of.  The soul at play.  The breath of life.  How's your aspiration these days?


There is something about sadness that is life-giving, or perhaps I mean, "life-affirming."  I don't mean the sadness that is non-specific or the kind that lingers for long periods of time without an identifiable cause.  That's what we call depression.  That kind of sadness drains and depletes us, eroding away life's worth. 

But there is another kind of sadness that comes over us that reveals what we have come to love, a sadness that would not exist if we had not learned to love.  Grief is another word for this kind of sadness.  It is painful.  But it is the kind of pain that comes with being human, fully alive.  To not know that kind of pain is the saddest thing of all.

Love is not sudden.  Attraction, infatuation, being smitten--such emotions come suddenly.  But love is slow and deep.  So much so that it's hard to measure.  It has a way of working its way into our lives and shaping our way of being in fundamental ways.  It's only when we experience loss that the degree to which our lives have been implicated in love is exposed.  This, of course, is what we experience when someone we love is lost--by death or distance of some kind (geographical or relational).  That experience and the sadness it brings over us, the tears that come unbidden, reveal something profound about who we are and have become.  We learn what matters to us.  It's impossible to fake sadness--at least the kind I am trying to name here.

Regret is a sadness that wishes what was had not been.  The sadness I am naming here is the recognition of what was (and remains) so valuable about what was...of how what has been has made it possible for us to understand what is valuable in this life.

We were having dinner.  The four of us.  Two couples who had become close friends.  The conversation turned to the loss of John's mother when he was a young boy.  It was not a particularly intense conversation.  John was not one to be tagged as "emotional."  All of a sudden, he literally burst into tears.  Life, Love, loss, and sadness overflowed in that moment. 

Sadness is a gift when it awakens us to the goodness we have known in this life, to the ways we have become implicated in love, and to the possibilities for love and goodness that are yet to be known and discovered in what is and is yet to be.

"O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me."  (Psalm 131)

Day 22: WISDOM

In today's reading, Sister Joan writes, "Older people have what this world needs most: the kind of experience that can save the next generation from the errors of the one before them...The older generation knows that the only thing that is good for any of us in the long run is what is good for all of us right now.  That's wisdom.  Wisdom is not insisting on the old ways of doing things.  It is the ability to make ancient truth the living memory of today."  Further on she writes of our elders, "They are meant to be the prophets of a society, its compass, its truthtellers...It is the older generation that must turn the spotlight back on our best ideals when the lights of the soul go dim.  Before it is too late."

To be honest (as one who likes to think of himself as too young to be "old" and yet has to face the fact that he is too old to be called "young" anymore) the equation of wisdom with the passing of years is not a given.  Actually, I think it is rare...

Aristotle thought that it is the lived experience of the elderly that more often than not makes them into people who are "small of soul."  He writes of the aged, "And they are small of soul because they have been humbled by life:  for they desire nothing great or excellent, but only what is commensurate with life.  And they are ungenerous.  For property is one of the necessary things; and in, and through, their experience they know how hard it is to get it and how easy it is to lose it."  The old, he claims, are prone to fear, cowardice, excessive self love, inappropriate self pity, and are "given to grieving, and are neither charming nor fond of laughter."  Yikes.  That's a grim view of what happens as get "old."  So much for the identification of wisdom with aging.

Let me hasten to add that I am not convinced by Aristotle nor am I dismissive of Sister Joan.  What I am convinced of (and I think Sister Joan would agree) is that the cumulative experience of life can narrow, harden, and shrink one's soul just as it can deepen, enlarge, and ripen one's soul.  The question I have is: what makes the difference? 

It's not life experience.  It is how we experience our lives. 

How do we gain wisdom through the experience of our lives?  How do we integrate what happens in the course of our days into a way of being that is hopeful (not cynical), generous (not miserly), forgiving (not resentful), engaged (not withdrawn), courageous (not cowardly), trusting (not instinctively suspicious)?  This question, of course, is not simply for the is relevant to ALL of us who are aging.  That's a question worth living with.  Ask someone you consider "wise" how they have answered it.

Wisdom must be pursued if it is to be gained.  "Finally, beloved,"  the Apostle Paul writes, "whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things."  (Philippians 4:8).

Day 21: TIME

When did you wake up to time?  For me, it was in 1996 when I was on sabbatical, in residence as a Fellow at Harvard Divinity School.  It was in the course of my reading and coursework, that I awoke to the profound significance of time--that thing we are all in, often talk about, but rarely reflect upon.  It was a passage in a small book by Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man,  that served as my wake up call.  It was this passage:

One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word qadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine.  Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world?  Was it a mountain?  Was it an altar?  It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation.  How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: "And God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy."  There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space [not even human beings] that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.

Not a thing, Not a place.  Not any created creature.  But time is the first dimension of creation to be consecrated.  All things, all places, all creatures are in time.  Holiness exists as an ever present possibility for the rest of creation because time is holy.  In the course of our lives, certain things and places and people convey holiness to us...but it's always because they connect us to holy moments.

We waste it, keep it, charge for it, pay for it, lose it, find it, run out of it, save it, and if all else fails, we kill it.  Rarely do we think of it as holy.  The Jewish tradition of sabbath keeping, of honoring the 7th day, was first and foremost the practice of recognizing time as holy.  They said, "We don't keep the sabbath.  The sabbath keeps us."  

As we age, time does not just pass, it accumulates.  We know it differently because we have lived more of it.  We become increasingly aware of how precious it is--that it's not just a given but a gift.  Sister Joan writes, "Time is a wondrous thing, if only I fill it well.  If I do not allow the passing of time to diminish my spirit but, instead, see it as a call to live life to the best and developing and life-loving self to the end.  Then time is my friend, not my enemy.  It gives me a heightened sense of life.  It urges me on to discover it all.  It marks the fullness of life, its mellowing, and it releases in me the self that has been coming into existence from the beginning."

Awake to THIS day.  "Give us THIS day, our DAILY bread..."  Help us, Lord, to taste again the bread of dailiness.  To know you here, in THIS moment of time.  It's a paradox that it is only when we pause, when we stop, that we experience the passage of time--otherwise it passes away unnoticed as do our lives.  Where is that pause for you?  It's never too late or too early to wake up to time.


I think success gets a lot less complicated as we age.  But no less important.  Success becomes less about achieving a certain kind of recognition or status in the world at large and much more about being at peace with oneself and one's immediate relational and circumstantial world.  It's not so much that we lower our sights as we age.  It's more that world we actually inhabit looms much larger and success is more focused by who and what actually faces us.  

For me, in my earlier years, I had a very hard time valuing the time and effort I spent in the domestic, local sphere of my life.  My eyes were too easily focused on the "larger world" and my standing out there.  The answer to the question of whether my life was adding up to something of substance and significance was to be found in how my worth was being measured, evaluated, and recognized out there.  It wasn't that I neglected my immediate sphere of life, it was more that I was always straining to see beyond it--which, to be sure, resulted in overlooking it more than I want to recall.  For example, I think my kids and Jennifer must have often felt like we feel when someone is talking to us at a party and constantly looking over our shoulder for a more important conversation partner.  I think I often felt that if I became too focused on and by the dailiness of my strictly local circumstances, my chance for success would somehow pass me by.

"In the end," Sister Joan writes, "it becomes so clear:  success is a much simpler thing than they ever told us.  It has to do with having the basics, with learning to be happy, with getting in touch with our spiritual selves, with living a balanced life, doing no harm, doing nothing but good.  The only true test of life here is happiness."  That notion of success is focused on and by the faces that face me in the dailiness of life.  All other notions of what it means to be successful pale by comparison.  

Any notion of success that tempts us to over-look the immediate world that actually faces us day in and day out, our intimate surroundings, is to be resisted.  That does not dismiss the importance of succeeding in the wider world.  Rather, attending with great love and care to the givenness of our lives is what gives our all efforts to succeed in the wider world their proper form and character.  

I think Jesus provided us with the greatest wisdom that has ever been uttered about what success looks like:  "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?" (Matthew 16: 25-26)  



Freedom can be daunting...which is why we so often seek to escape it.

This is especially true when we are preoccupied with negative freedom and essentially unconcerned with positive freedom.  'Negative freedom' is 'freedom from' and 'positive freedom' is 'freedom for.'  For example, if our focus is on being freed from the burdens of external demands of our day to day lives (of our jobs, of our obligations as parents, of our obligations to parents, etc) and yet we have no real sense of what we want to be free for, we are going to be ill equipped to experience freedom as life-giving and generative.  More than likely, when we find ourselves freed from certain "burdens" we will simply substitute new burdens that will alleviate the anxiety of our new found freedom!  

How often have we seen folks as they age experience their freedom from external demands and responsibilities as a cause for despair?  If we spend our lives unconcerned about what it is we are meant to be free for, the inevitable freedom from external demands will be daunting indeed.

Sister Joan writes of how the "freedom from" that that comes with age can be an exhilarating discovery of what we are "free for."  "Finally, I am now free to become involved in life in ways I never did before when all the directions were clear and all the expectations binding and all the responsibilities defined.  Now is the time to think it all through again.  Everything, God, life, work, relationships, behaviors, goals.  I am free now to measure all of them against my experience, to reshape them out of my new knowledge, to try things wherever my new spiritual energy leads me, to add new ideas to the old ideas that have controlled my life for so long."  

Amen to that!  But this I would add (and I think Sister Joan would agree):  if the freedom that comes with aging is to be experienced as the exhilarating discovery she describes, it is essential that we live into that freedom all along the way.  If we opt to live our lives within the four walls of necessity when we walk free of that we will more than likely build new walls to escape our freedom.  Act freely now.  Don't put it off.  Make time for a kind of doing that is not required by the day to day demands and responsibilities that you must attend to. 

How often have you decided to do something for its own sake, something you have wanted to do for a long time but you never felt you had the time or bandwidth to do it?  How often have you actually done it and, looking back, you say to yourself, "Why didn't I do this sooner?  Why was I so convinced that it was impossible to take this up?"  That's what positive freedom feels like.  Don't lose your feel for that.  Of course we never get entirely free from external demands and responsibilities.  But if we cultivate a sense for what we yearn to be free for and exercise that freedom, living in relation to those demands and responsibilities will never become an escape from our true freedom.  

I'll let Jesus have the final word, "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  (John 8: 32)


I must confess, the word, "religion" has a negative connotation for me.  Those of you who have listened to me preach over the years know that I rarely speak of "religion."  It takes a deeply human way of being and sets it aside as an abstract, impersonal, system of beliefs that some have and others do not.  Religion becomes the shorthand, reductionistic way of naming what in reality is a kind of knowing, a way of living, a personal encounter, a sense of reality, a thirst for meaning, and an intuition of transcendence.  That's why I resist much talk about says too little about too much.

To talk of "religions" is to reduce all that I named above to a system of beliefs and rituals that can easily be defined, objectified, and categorized.

Sister Joan has a much more generous take on religion.  To be sure, she has her critique of its reductive tendencies, but she retains a more dynamic view of its meaning and possibilities.  She writes, "Religion says that there is a Divine Center from which we all come and to which we will all someday return."  In terms of how aging can redeem "religion" she writes, "In later years, religion ceases to be simply a series of rites and rituals, of rules and answers for which I get some kind of eternal points.  Religion becomes what it was always meant to be:  a search and a relationship with the Spirit Who draws us on.  Always on.  Even to the point where 'on' is unclear."

Christianity is not a religion in the same way that Islam is not or Judaism is not or any of the other "religions" we talk about these days.  Each of these traditions rightly understood, are particular ways of life, of knowing, of believing, and of being.  They are always so much more than expressions of some generic tendency of our own making that can be lumped together under the category of religion.  

As the theologian Michael J. Buckley writes, "One will not long affirm a personal God, who is fundamentally inferred as a conclusion rather than disclosed as a presence."  God is not a conclusion to be inferred but a Presence to be experienced.

I may get turned off by talk about "religion." but I am utterly convinced that our lives are profoundly impoverished by a failure to live in relation to God.  That we are made for such relationship and that, as Augustine prayed, "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee."  If talk of "religion" keeps us attending to the restlessness of our hearts (as Sister Joan does) then I concede it place and importance. 

Let us, with the passing of our days, be drawn on...always know the Presence who holds us even when we are not sure what we hold to.  Church, in one very real sense, is simply a gathering of those who are holding it together. 


In our reading for today, Sister Joan writes, "The problem with aging is not age, it is petrification, rigidity of soul, inflexibility."  How true that is.  I have met a lot of very old young people.  And I have met some exceptionally young elderly folks.  As one of my favorite preachers, William Sloane Coffin, once said, "My goal in life is to die young as late as possible."

One of the great gains of serving as a pastor in congregations is that I have become closely related to more "seniors" in the course of my life than I ever would have had I not been a pastor.  I have had my share of seniors who are petrified, rigid, and inflexible.  On my best days, I responded well to such encounters.  I reminded myself of how much change they had endured without choice and how invested they had now become in the unchanging patterns of church life.  If they lost a sense of familiarity and predictability in the community that had been a rock of assurance for so many years--what would be left to hold on to?  Would there be anything to hold them when they needed it most?  

That being said, I have to say, that over all my years in ministry--almost 40 years--my  overwhelming experience is of seniors (and I mean folks who would now call ME young in my 60's) with a remarkable capacity for change and flexibility--a largeness of soul.  Even when they had their reasons for sticking with the way things were and had been, they listened and reasoned and came to welcome change and support it in all kinds of ways.   Of course, it made a difference, always, that they felt heard and understood and not dismissed and did not feel that their take on things was simply being tolerated.   When they were thoroughly included in the discernment process of change--it (and they) made all the difference.  We always learn when we understand even when we disagree.  

That being said, I have to say that some of the most petrified, rigid and inflexible people in the course of my ministry have been those younger in years.  Indeed, a particularly sad memory I carry is of a congregation I served in my early years of ministry.  Upon leaving after 8 years of ministry, a younger pastor (in his 30's)  was called and in less than 5 years he destroyed the congregation.  One of the most petrified, rigid, in flexible people I have ever met (and I did meet him on a few occasions).  He succeeded in cultivating that same posture among many of the younger people I had known and worked with for years.  Others rejected his heavy handed ways.  Seniors were largely shunted aside, lost in the fury and the fray.  The church died.  There is not even a building that remains.  

We are never too young...or too old to cultivate a receptivity to new ideas and perspectives, a genuine curiosity about what and how others think, an ability to know one's mind and yet always assume that there is more to be known.  How are you doing on that front?

On one occasion, Jesus said, "Don't put new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved." (Matthew 9:17)  


There's a story I have told--probably more than a few time--in the course of my preaching.  It's one of my favorites.  It's about a missionary family living in China during the Communist takeover in the 1940's.  As with all Americans, they were being rounded up and placed in internment camps.  The orders had been handed down by the authorities that in 24 hours, the family would be required to leave and they would only be able to take what would come in under the prescribed weight limit of 400 pounds.  They were a family of 4. They had been living in China for several years. 

Immediately each family member began sorting through their possessions--separating out the things they could not possibly leave behind.  As you can imagine, it was a tense and intense negotiation.  Finally, after many hours, several suitcases were neatly packed and carefully weighed.  And they waited.

Finally came the ominous knock on the door.  The father answered and the soldier inquired briskly, "Are you ready to leave?"  "Yes," the father replied confidently.  "Has everything been weighed?"  "Yes, sir!" You could detect a trace of pride in the father's voice.  The soldier stepped into the house and eyed closely the suitcases all lined up in a row.  He stepped back to the doorway, "Did you weigh the children?" Suddenly the essential became nonessential.

Downsizing, divesting, discarding, shedding--letting go.  It's very different kind of process than accumulating, acquiring, expanding, adding--storing up.  Many of you reading this have engaged this process--moving from a residence fit for the raising of a family to a condo or an apartment suitable for two people.  You have divested yourselves of much of what was deemed, on some level, essential to your journey.  You weigh things differently now.  You travel light.  You hold fewer things closely...and treasure loved ones more deeply.

Jesus was not big on storage: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven....for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  (Matthew 6: 19-21).  He was always calling on people to leave things behind.  He was big on traveling light.

Letting go is a spiritual discipline--one not to be put off until we are forced by necessity to exercise it.  Holding on to the wrong things as if our life depended on it is how we imagine we can buffer ourselves against the inevitable loss of all things.  The practice of "letting go" is how we learn to (in Sister Joan's words), "go lightfooted into the here and now."  


There is a knowledge that only the old possess.  I think much of our reflection so far, guided by Sister Joan, has been about naming that knowledge and honoring it.  In our reading today, Sister Joan reminds us that as important as the knowledge that comes with age is, without the ability to tell stories much of that knowledge will be lost.  The older generation, she writes, must heed "their call, to pass on those stories to the later generations.  Without the passing on of the stories, the young one's are a group without character, without tradition, without the living memory of how and why they came together in the first place."  

We do love and need stories.  It's one of the first things we come to love as children.  Central to all good parenting is the ability to tell stories--our own and stories others have told and written.  

What stories do I have to tell, to pass on?  I'm not so sure.  How about you?  For me, it is much easier to think of others as having significant, interesting, and consequential stories to tell.  Perhaps we all have a tendency to overlook our own stories--the repertoire of experience that we carry within us and draw upon without even thinking about it to make sense of our lives and who we are and why we are.  

A few years back, Rebecca Anderson called upon us to tell stories from our lives.  I did that on at least two occasions.  I took the time to recall in writing and then tell in public the story of how I came from Australia to America and the story of how Jennifer and I met and fell in love.  I realized then how powerful those stories were to my sense of who I am and that there are many, many stories that rumble around in the repertoire of my consciousness.  It wasn't until I was called upon to tell a story that I recognized I had one...many.  

What would you say to someone who asked you, out of the blue, "Tell me a story from your life?"  What story would you tell?  When was the last time you asked that question of someone?

It's not accidental that our faith is first a foremost a story we tell before it is a command we follow.  The stories I wrote out and told a few years back were not just the recollection of episodes--but a way of naming how I have known my life to be part of a larger story not of my own making.  That larger story of faith, is hard to name well if we lose track of our own stories.  

So, what story would you tell?


"Old age is an island surrounded by death."  This is the quote from Juan Montalvo Sister Joan opens her chapter with.  One could go further and say, "...and the the island keeps getting smaller."  It is not uncommon for my more elderly friends to say to me something like, "I feel all I do these days is go to funerals."  For those who live long, living with loss is a given...the loss of friends and companions with whom one has walked over many years, with whom one shares countless memories and from whom one learned what it means to love and be loved. 

I think there is no greater loss.

I'm guessing that living with such loss surpasses the challenge of living with the loss of one's own physical and mental capacities.  I am 61 and I have not suffered the loss of any of my close friends.  In my immediate family (I have 5 siblings--all married with lots of kids; Jennifer comes from the same sized family) I have only suffered the loss of my mother.  I say "only" not because it was insignificant, but because in most earlier generations it would have been inconceivable that someone of my age with such a large extended family would have suffered so little loss of loved ones.  Yes, I have lost grandparents--but I always lived at a great distance from all my grandparents and aunts and uncles--the relational ties where thin--and so my experience of their dying was from a distance.

Many if not most of you reading this have a very different story--even some who are much younger than I am.  You can testify to the experience of loss of friends and loved ones.  I stand amazed in your presence as I observe you moving onward and outward with your lives.  I know you bear a grief that does not entirely resolve even as you have learned how to hold it without being held up by it.   I have watched as you have resisted the temptations Sister Joan talks about--"to live in a world long gone," or to insulate yourself "from life by avoiding the risk of further vulnerability."

Jesus said there is "no greater love...than the one who lays down one's life for one's friends."  (John 15:13)  That's what we do in friendship.  We don't feel the full gravity of that kind of love--because, by its nature, it's so much a part of who we are--until we lose such a loved one in death.  Laying down our lives for one another comes as close to the meaning of life as we will ever come...and that meaning, that knowledge, is not destroyed by death but given profound expression.  

I am grateful, as I age, to be surrounded by so many witnesses to a love that will not die.


"So mystery, the notion that something wonderful can happen at any time if we will only allow space for it, takes us into a whole new awareness of the immanence of God in time," so writes Sister Joan in our reading for today.  

Mystery, wonder, astonishment...they all name something similar--a capacity we all seem to be born with and that we all seem to leave behind as we "grow up."  As children, we don't talk about these things, this way of knowing and experiencing the world.  It just is the way we are the way the world is.  It's only as we age, certainly when we become parents, that we see how it plays out in children--it is only then that we name it and delight in it.  And, if we allow it, our children draw us into their assumption of mystery and wonder.  As a parent, how I miss those days.  Oh, how many of those days I missed.

Sister Joan's focus is not on the  sense of mystery we have left behind as much as the entrance into the mystery we are in the midst of and that lies before us.  She writes of the sense of mystery we grow up into not out of.  She talks of how our daily routines can become blinders to mystery, distractions from the extraordinary. 

There is a connection between innocence and mystery, don't you think?  Which is why we so readily associate a sense of mystery with children.  The danger, of course, with identifying mystery with the innocence of childhood, is that we reduce a sense of mystery to a long lost, impossible to be regained, naiveté.

But what if our delight in a child's love of mystery is the indication of a capacity within ourselves that has not been lost as much as forgotten?  Although dormant, it remains resident in us.  It's re-engagement does not require the denial of our maturity--rather, it it becomes the final expression of it. 

The poet Christian Wiman writes, “The frustration we feel when trying to explain or justify God, whether to ourselves or to others, is a symptom of knowledge untethered from innocence, of words in which no silence lives, of belief occurring wholly on a human plane. Innocence returns us to the first call of God, to any moment in our lives when we were rendered mute with awe, fear, wonder."

So Jesus spoke on several occasions, "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:17).