In today's reading, Sister Joan situates her reflections on "spirituality" in the following way: "If we learn anything at all as time goes by and the changing seasons become fewer and fewer, it is that there are some things in life that cannot be fixed. It is more than possible that we will go to our graves with a great deal of personal concerns, of life agendas, unresolved." This is the crucible within which spirituality does its most important work in us...especially as we age. Spirituality is not how we escape the inevitable "unfinished business" of this life, it is not how we tie up all the loose ends, smooth out all the rough edges and sail off in to the sunset to live happily ever after in the ever after.
Yesterday, I had the chance to talk with a woman in her 90's.. She is a bright, attractive, and energetic person. Genuinely appealing from first sight. She is almost completely blind, lost a 47 year old daughter to cancer, her husband of many years died of cancer in his late sixties, and her son and his family had to move in with her just a few years ago due to bankruptcy. She is one of the most spiritual people I have met in a long time.
I say that not because she has left all suffering behind her or somehow "spiritualized" away all her sorrows. I say it because, as we talked and the recollections of those losses came up in conversation, she picked up the napkin from the table and held it to her eyes to absorb her tears. We sat for a few minutes while she let the wave of emotion flow. We talked on of how one bears such losses and goes on into life. It was a sacred moment.
Perhaps the most important book I have read on living with the suffering that comes from profound loss is Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff. Upon the sudden, accidental death of his 27 year old son (from a climbing accident) he writes of his struggle to live with that loss. It is a narrative of the crucible of spirituality. At one point he writes about living with the flood of regrets he has about the things said and not said, done and left undone....he wonders what to do with his bundle of "God-forgiven regrets."
He concludes, "I shall live with them. I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds. But I will not endlessly gaze at them. I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. And I shall allow them to sharpen the vision and intensify the hope for that Great Day coming when we can all throw ourselves into each other's arms and say, 'I'm sorry.' The God of love will surely grant us such a day. Love needs that."
Indeed. And that kind of love requires a spirituality.