Last weekend I spent in Sarum College ( above) with a delightful and interesting group of people exploring the nature of age….
Here is a reflection from one of the members of the group:
‘Age: Blessing or Burden’ by Paul Scott
These are first thoughts, having just returned from a weekend conference at Sarum College, Salisbury of that title. It was led by Revd Dr James Woodward, College of St George, Windsor, until recently director of the Lady Katherine Leveson Centre for the Study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy. It is not a blow by blow account of three fascinating days for much demands further pondering and unpacking.
We all advance in years, something that is visible within most congregations. Yet ageing may be viewed by some with horror, by others with disdain. The label ‘elderly’ can so often imply diminution of physical ability, onset of illness, decline of sexuality, loss of friends, depression or memory loss. For some it may include the prospect of penury. Yet can it all become a self-fulfilling prophecy? So often the negatives are treated as absolutes but the positives are ignored. The most common negative is sadly the way society treats the older generation; unvalued, unwanted and simply a burden. Yet the majority of older people are absolutely normal, as normal as the rest of the population – if not more so!
The conference challenged these negative popular views. Yes, some older people are ill, but so are some young people (is that latter feared even more by society so usually blocked out). That is not to minimise the pain that some older people experience, but to put it into a different perspective. Quality of life is not just a matter of chronological age – we are only as old as we feel. In religious terms is has been noted that older people become more ‘spiritual’. That is not just the prospect of more imminent death, but may well be a willingness to explore the meaning of existence as it has been experienced over 70, 80, 90 decades. And it is vital that we recognise, too, that it is the same gospel the Church declares for every decade.
The first thing then is to fight low self-esteem, and not allow yourself to be patronised – don’t withdraw or allow others to count you out. Even the Church does – how many ‘mission’ initiatives are directed at the elderly compared with those to young people? Similarly, don’t be boxed into groups just for older people. When your children are grown up and live miles away there is a place for the surrogate grandparent. Don’t be excessively risk averse – adventures are possible and to be encouraged. The Church in particular needs to enable rather than overlook. Imagination does not wane, neither does the ability to think theologically, and both are enhanced by years of journeying with God. These stories can be real gems.
So ageing can be good. Yes, older people need to be valued and loved, but not patronised. Age does not destroy glamour but transforms it, it does not stop learning but may be retuned by it. Perhaps life will demand more patience and new strategies for getting round things – so what! Use of a bit of low cunning is fun. And if you can still put a smile on the face of God, then that surely makes life worthwhile.