Faith, of course, offers a profoundly meaningful sense of futurity that reorients the entire horizon of aging, and the 17th-century writers reflected at length on the great hope that one day we will be in the full and conscious Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ whom "Although [we] have not seen … [we] love" (1 Peter 1:8). For the person who is aging in faith, death is not the end but simply the small low door through which one must stoop to move into the ever-fuller realization of all that "eternal life" means: the life begun here by faith opening out, finally, into resurrection life in a world remade. In life and in death, we are the Lord's!
And all of this love and hope means that we can expect to age fruitfully. The 17th-century writers encouraged the faithful to "press on," even while accepting physical and mental limitations. I have watched with awe as aging people continue to "grow in grace" deep into old age: some learn tenderness through meeting the needs of a spouse or friend, some experience transformation through suffering, patience through learning to accept care. "The righteous flourish…" a psalmist writes. "In old age they still produce fruit" (Psalm 92: 12-15).
So, as I now write at the end of many of my letters now, "On we go." Or, as a friend wrote at the end of hers, "Blessings as we continue to age in the Lord's good company."
The John Donne quotation is from Meditation XVII, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions… (London, 1624).Reprinted, John Donne Devotions, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1959, 3rd printing, 1965.
Further discussion of 17th-century views of aging can be found in:
Maxine Hancock, "Aging as a Stage of the Heroic Pilgrimage of Faith: Some Literary and Theological Lenses for 'Re-Visioning' Age. CRUX Vol. 47, No. 1 (Spring 2011), pp. 2-15.
Maxine Hancock and Arlette Zinck, "Baxter, Bunyan and a Puritan Reframing of Ageing," Bunyan Studies No. 14 (2010), pp. 56-75.