From the Shepherd’s Nook: John Frye

Pastoral Poetry

In the last post we attempted theological poetry with “Jesus the Poster Boy.” Here is an example of pastoral poetry. One aspect of pastoral ministry I enjoy is talking and listening to old people, people in their late 80s and early 90s. In an age when we warehouse old people in care facilities, we may easily lose touch with their influential wisdom. Intelligence is never a good replacement for wisdom. Often it is better to listen to a wise plumber than to a brilliant Mensa member. Here are my musings after speaking with Ray Minnema, an 88 year old in my congregation who as a teenager fought in the Dutch underground against the Nazis. Ray’s great grandfather, Simon, fought in Napoleon’s army.

When Old People Speak

When old people speak

listen for the ages in their words.

They say “I remember” and we skip

back over Viet Nam, over Churchill and World War II,

landing somewhere in the Great Depression,

feeling the hot dust and deprivation.


When old people speak

honor the silences that carry time,

fragile, yet weighted with life;

the silences from which startling,

future-shaping words embrace the soul.


When old people speak

Do not confuse the wispy, airy sounds

with lack of strength or depth of soul.

Imagine life so full, so hard with pain and peace,

that words are too flimsy to bear it.


When old people speak

sit and watch, listen and listen well,

for their frail, soft utterances

define, refine meaning in your journey,

saving you from all that is hollow.


By vocation, Ray was a brick-layer. He built the fireplace in the Calvin College library. Ray met Etty during the German occupation of the Netherlands and she became his wife. After the Netherlands was liberated, Ray joined the U. S. Army and fought in New Guinea, liberating Japanese concentration camp prisoners. Ray has seen life at its most evil, yet his heart is tender and he tears up when he tells me how he loves to pray in Dutch. This last New Year’s Day he was invited to a family gathering. His children, grandchildren and some great grandchildren were there. Ray told me, “I sat in a corner and no one came over and talked to me.”

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  • RJS


    This is a great post. For several years we had in our informal Sunday “lunch group” a fantastic elderly woman. Her experiences and perspective (not to mention her sense of humor) enriched every conversation. We all gained much. Although she wasn’t “frail” or “soft” until very near the end. She died last summer at 85 and we all miss her.

    Intergenerational community can be the most powerful aspect of Christian community, and it is one of the hardest to come by these days with one hour Sunday morning shows and affinity based small groups.

  • Rodney Reeves

    Thanks, John, so much for your tender heart–often a casualty in ministry.

  • I enjoyed the post and also RJS’s comment mentioning ‘intergenerational community’. It is indeed a precious thing, and largely lost to us these days.

    In earlier times while Mum and Dad were working to get in the harvest or sow the seeds for the following year’s crop, the old folk would look after the little ones. The mutual benefit would have been considerable. Old folk were not worth little, they were a valuable resource. They carried a store of useful knowledge because technology changed so slowly. They were respected and cared for.

    The little ones kept the old folk active and engaged, the old folk would care for the young. Whatever your age, from cradle to grave, life had a purpose. The contrast with our own time is stark. Old people languish in ‘homes’ waiting to die. Young children end up in ‘child care’ and spend too much time on TV and computer games. How poignant that Ray ‘sat in a corner and no one came over and talked to me’.

    How much we have lost!

  • MatthewS

    I enjoyed this one on Friday, John. Our church has more “older folks” than “younger folks.” They are treasures. The things they have lived and seen, their faithfulness that has proven itself, the way they continue to serve the Lord and others. Treasures.