A reflection for Candlemas
by Debbie Thrower, team leader for BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy
Invest in the interior life
As a journalist, I’ve conducted many vox pops out on the street with a microphone over the last 30 or so years. These are not concepts occupying the minds of most shoppers on today’s high street. The words ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ tend not to be uppermost in people’s minds. And yet… when the generations reach old age and are in sheltered accommodation or care homes, you can spot the difference between those who have an interior life – who focus on what nurtures their minds and refreshes their souls, those who’ve cultivated their faith through practising the presence of God – and those who have not.
The Australian researcher Elizabeth MacKinlay, who travels to the UK regularly to speak and whose books are widely read for their insights into ageing and well-being, has identified several tasks when it comes to ageing.
To transcend difficulty, disability and loss
To search for final meanings
To find intimacy with God, and
To have hope.
Spiritual Growth in the Fourth Stage of Life (Jessica Kingsley, 2006)
In chapters 3 and 4 of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, the apostle senses himself close to death. He’s completed his tasks, he’s brimming with hope despite, touchingly, going on to ask for his warm coat to be brought to him, along with his books and notebooks. Here we see a Paul who’s reassuringly human, vulnerable.
He implores his friend to keep the faith, to remember how he’s absorbed the sacred scriptures along with his mother’s milk. Now is the time to stand firm and preach the gospel, whether the times are propitious or not. Paul is urging Timothy to complete the particular task assigned to him, knowing the clock’s ticking. For Paul, life did have meaning and purpose; his sense of a personal destiny stemmed from being called by Christ through that overwhelming experience on the road to Damascus that had shaped the rest of his life.
The call to growing old
So many of us these days live on into prolonged old age without such meaning – never discovering much of a sense of purpose. I bless the kind person who gave me a booklet of Bible reading notes after I was confirmed. I’ve pretty much read them, regularly, ever since, lapsing only in my 20s. But after a time, I felt the lack of them. I missed that regular appointment with God, and I found my way back to them.
Without consciously doing so, perhaps, such people are undertaking the ‘tasks of
'The Word beyond all words'
Nowadays, we leave going into care as late as possible. The majority of residents exhibit signs of confusion. Once, when writer and priest Barbara Brown Taylor was visiting a care home in the US, she found the residents there vocal, restless. When she asked them to choose the gospel reading, one woman shouted out: ‘Tell us a resurrection story!’ As her words settled down over the room, the ‘movers and shakers’ held still for a moment, and the sleepers opened their eyes. ‘Yes,’ someone else said, and then someone else, ‘Yes, tell us a resurrection story.’
The Bible tells us the stories we need and want to hear – stories to help us live… to help us die, and stories to help us believe we shall live again… The living words of God heal our hurts and soften our hearts; they clear our vision and guide our feet. Like a lifeline strung from the beginning of time to the end, they show us a way through all the storms of culture, nature and history. They show us the way to the Word beyond all words, in whose presence we [his witnesses] shall be made eloquent at last.
The Preaching Life (Rowman and Littlefield, 1993)
Background: Flying wild geese and a red sunset © Thinkstock