"Perhaps it is easy enough to understand that God can be grasped in and through every life. But, can God be found in and through every death, every diminishment? This is what disconcerts us, and yet, this is what we must learn to recognize. […] The forces of diminishment are possibilities. Their number is vast. Their forms infinitely varied. Their influence constant. There is a time of growth, and a time of diminishment in the lives of each one of us. All of these attitudes spring from the same inner orientation of the mind. From a single law, which combines the two-fold movement of the natural personalization of a man, a woman, and their supernatural, depersonalization in Christ."
~ Teilhard de Chardin
~ Thomas Keating, From The Mind to The Heart
The following quote is particularly relevant for us who practice Centering Prayer, knowing we are doing it for ourselves and for the world. It was written by Robert Greenleaf, who is the father of servant-leadership. He always said that a leader is someone who serves those who give him the privilege of leading them.
At the end of his life, Greenleaf wrote a little essay on aging. He said, "Now I have come to accept that I can best serve by being. Now, no mountains to climb, but I may continue to do some things, mostly writing. But, it is no longer 'production'. Whether I get it done or not is no longer important as it used to be. I scan the daily newspaper, but I rarely listen to radio or TV. Because they cannot be scanned. I prefer to meditate. And I have come to view my meditating as serving. Somehow the quiet and peace of anyone's meditation communicates and enriches the whole culture. I feel the fruits of other people's meditations."
A Lesson in Aging, by Ron Rolheisert
[…]The soul doesn’t age, it matures. You can stay young in soul long after the body betrays you. Indeed, we’re meant to be always young in spirit.
Souls carry life differently than do bodies because bodies are built to eventually die. Inside of every living body the life-principle has an exit strategy. It has no such strategy inside a soul, only a strategy to deepen, grow richer, and more textured. Aging forces us, mostly against our will, to listen to our soul more deeply and more honestly so as to draw from its deeper wells and begin to make peace with its complexity, its shadow, and its deepest proclivities - and the aging of the body plays the key role in this. To employ a metaphor from James Hillman: The best wines have to be aged in cracked old barrels. So too for the soul: The aging process is designed by God and nature to force the soul, whether it wants to or not, to delve ever deeper into the mystery of life, of community, of God, and of itself. Our souls don’t age, like a wine, they mature, and so we can always be young in spirit. Our zest, our fire, our eagerness, our wit, our brightness, and our humor, are not meant to dim with age. Indeed, they’re meant to be the very color of a mature soul.
So, in the end, aging is a gift, even if unwanted. Aging takes us to a deeper place, whether we want to go or not.
Like most everyone else, I still haven’t made my full peace with this and would still like to think of myself as young. However, I was particularly happy to celebrate my 70th birthday two years ago, not because I was happy to be that age, but because, after two serious bouts with cancer in recent years, I was very happy just to be alive and wise enough now to be a little grateful for what aging and a cancer diagnosis has taught me.
There are certain secrets hidden from health, writes John Updike. True. And aging uncovers a lot of them because, as Swedish proverb puts it, “afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”
San Antonio, Texas
August 25th, 2019
Questions for reflection:
- Are there third consents to bring to the light and see as gifts?
- How can I or how am I sanctifying the world by fully entering into my diminishments?
- What would it look like for me to make the third consent (the spirituality of diminishment) as an ongoing practice?