As we grow older, we also grow more spiritual. At least that has been my personal experience. Now that I can count the time to retirement in months rather than years, I find myself yearning to deepen my spiritual practice. I look forward to having more time for contemplation, centering prayer, spiritual reading. And apparently, I am not alone.
In a recent story that appeared in Canada’s Globe and Mail, Kathy Kerr writes that “retirement offers time to tend to the spiritual side of life that often gets neglected in the overheated world of work.” She quotes Sheila Macgregor, a minister at Siloam United Church in London, Ontario, as framing the issue this way:
Now boomers are faced with the question “Who am I now that I no longer have the job? Who am I now without the title, or staff or colleagues? Who am I without the kids at home?” These are questions around identity and purpose…they’re fundamentally religious questions.”
Macgregor says that those approaching retirement today look at faith differently than their parents. “I think boomers are anti-institutional and anti-doctrinal. They don’t want to be told what to believe and they don’t want to sit in church. They want to be the church.”
They want to be the church. It means that many of us boomers want to pull our inspiration from a patchwork of different religious and spiritual traditions, as opposed to being beholden to a single religion or doctrine. It’s a sentiment echoed by Thomas Moore in his landmark book A Religion of One’s Own. Moore advises us:
Language, ideas, techniques, methods and rituals are there to be borrowed. We can learn from many different traditions how to meditate, how to honor special days…how to go on a pilgrimage, how to pray, how to fast and abstain…how to forgive and heal and offer gratitude.
Kerr also interviews Richard Address, a Philadelphia-area rabbi, who says that spirituality often grows as people age and they realize they have enough “stuff.” It’s a transition from “I need to acquire more material things” to “I really need to acquire spiritual things in my life.” Address believes that “when you lose the other rhythms of life, one’s spiritual practice can provide that.”
Paul Dunion sees aging as “an opportunity to get right with yourself.”
Dunion, a wise elder, writes in his new book Wisdom, Apprenticing to the Unknown and Befriending Fate, that as we age, “our attachment to pretense is diminished. We let go of a desire to impress and are free to declare who we are.” In turn, we become “less prone to being driven off course by sounds and revelry that are incompatible with where our souls live. We have come to know our place.”
The author writes of “living on the wild edge of aging” and “attending to the soul’s task.” His idea of aging is obviously not living in a staid retirement community and spending one’s days golfing or knitting. (Though if that’s what your soul calls you to do, go for it.) He sees aging as a time when we allow the soul, not the ego, to call the shots.
In a chapter titled “The Aging Apprentice,” Dunion touches on the questions aging may ask of us as we move into our later years. What follows is a lightly edited version of what we might expect. As you read these requests of the soul, see which ones you believe will be asked of you and contemplate how you might respond.
9 Things Aging Will Ask of You
- You will be asked to shift your gaze away from your physical skills and intellectual insights. Now it may be time to spend more time focusing inwardly.
- You will be asked to show up in your life using your instincts and intuition to respond to what fate delivers.
- You will be asked to pay attention to what really matters, letting go of what is undeserving of your time and energy.
- You will be asked to step away from being tamed by societal expectations, freeing yourself from excessive ties to convention.
- You will be asked to emancipate yourself from the ego’s rule and be more receptive to identifying and attending to the wants of the soul.
- You will be asked to be more willing to engage and relate to others. This might entail more conversation, more play, giving and receiving help, and learning to create more depth and meaning in your relationships.
- You will be asked to let go of your need for control, your small self-serving world views, and your comforting certitudes which you may not be certain about at all.
- You will be asked to be less divisive and see how much we all deserve kindness.
- Shorn of the responsibilities of work and raising a family, you will be asked to become the person you were meant to be.