The future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain

Posted by on 09.16.08 | 27 Comments
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This post is part of a synchroblog hosted on the site Square No More. The topic for this month’s synchroblog is maturity in the light of our faith. Please visit these blogs for excellent posts related to this topic:

Phil Wyman asks Is Maturity Really What I Want?
Lainie Petersen at Headspace with “Watching Daddy Die
Kathy Escobar at
The Carnival in My Head with “what’s inside the bunny?”
John Smulo at
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith with “Long-Wearing Nail Polish and Other Stories”
Bryan Riley at
Charis Shalom
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church with “Maturity and Education
KW Leslie at
The Evening of Kent
Bethany Stedman at Coffee Klatch with “Moving Towards True Being: The Long Process of Maturity”
Adam Gonnerman at
Igneous Quill with “Old Enough to Follow Christ?
Joe Miller at
More Than Cake with “Intentional Relationships for Maturity
Jonathan Brink at with “I Won’t Sin
Susan Barnes at
A Booklook with “Growing Up”
Tracy Simmons at
The Best Parts with “Knowing Him Who is From the Beginning
Joseph Speranzella at
A Tic in the Mind’s Eye with “Spiritual Maturity And The Examination of Conscience
Sally Coleman at
Eternal Echoes with Vulnerable Maturity
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules with “What I Wish The Church Knew About Spiritual Maturity
Cobus van Wyngaard at
My Contemplations with “post-enlightenment Christians in an unenlightened South Africa
Steve Hayes at
Khanya with “Adult Content
Ryan Peter at
Ryan Peter Blogs and Stuff with “The Foundation For Ministry and Leading
Kai at Kaiblogy “Mature Virtue”

And of course the following post here at the VTH: the future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain

‘…when you hold on to me…

the future is ours to see

so baby hold on to me… ‘

lyrics by Eddie Money

Great great grandmother by morten.hammer
flickr photo: morten.hammer

What keeps us from maturing into elders? Nursing homes, churches, synagogues, mosques, community centers, everywhere we go we see older humans who look vacant; they seem locked into obsessing about their physical and mental decline and more interested in security and how many medications they have to take than about their vital role in community.

There are several potential interlocking reasons why this is the current state of our eldership, including, as so many have noted, a culture that values a particular type of beauty over wisdom, and busy-ness and opinion over quietness and depth of spirit. We also have precious few rites of passage for anyone along life’s trajectory–and that brings many problems, not the least of which are older adults who have few clues what the last piece of their life is about.

By and large we have few role models for sageing with our aging’. This part of the life cycle can be about the expansion of our spiritual understanding even while the physical capacities diminish. ‘Seeds’ of wisdom, hope and gracefulness can thus be disseminated, blown by the winds of spirit to fertile ground.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of thinking about this topic. I helped with a young women’s rites of passage a couple years ago. I’ve taught faith development classes (and hope to teach more). I’m doing my own ‘crone-making’ work. It’s not an easy life task to release all that has to be let go of to live into our wisdom.

  • It takes being willing to let go of our preconceived ideas of who we are in community. It’s a fine case of pre-emptive destruction and renewal.
  • It takes constant vigilance so that we don’t either get mired in the past or shanghaied into a scary future, in which the 2nd generation from us is extinct or in dire circumstances–to say nothing of the 7th generation.
  • It takes us knowing that our doing is now being. While we admire athletes and others who can climb 14teeners and sail around the world while they’re in their 70′s or older–does that really mean they are gathering life-wisdom up to their loins, ostensibly preparing seeds of a spiritual nature…or are they just afraid of aging and dying?
  • It takes acknowledgement that we are called to do the hard work of dreaming up a way to integrate what life has taught us so that we can share it in meaningful ways with the young and the young adults that are part of our communities.
  • It means we have to become storytellers and poets.
  • AND, it means that our personal theology has to develop and grow. When my Grandma Verna who lived to be 103 and was a true elder, turned 99, I asked her the question that I’d asked her every year on her birthday for as long as I’d been an adult: ‘Gram, what did you learn this year?’ She said, without hesitation, ‘I had to re-think my theology again this year. I always thought that it was my job to worry and pray and try to keep all of you (her extended family) on the straight and narrow path to heaven. Now I know that all I have to do is love you. That’s all I have to do!’ Arising from a near death experience described in the link above, Gram’s new found amazement with life’s mystery stayed with her until her death. She slipped a little here and there into worry and fretting over her family, but by and large, she was free.

Freedom from the known constraints of defining ourselves in the same ways we always have is the goal: only in that freedom can we become not only wizened but wise!

Here, from a young adult friend who has a young child, Jena Strong of bullseye,baby! a place to practice we see the stirrings of a baby elder:

The Clearing

I watch over as the child sleeps.
Like an eagle, I circle the roof line,
creating a nest of blessings she cannot see.

Her eyes look like closed crescents
and I notice her dreams flickering
as a soft howl comes through the open window.
I whisper to her, sing
the lullaby of the girl and the crone
laying down together in the overgrown garden,
seasons piling up around us
like a wall of stones we can read with our hands.

Then the breeze picks up its whistle
and the burnt leaves begin to hum,
and the breath that comes from the ancient well
moves us, through these crowded woods
where words touch,
where clouds land and lift,
where limbs cross and carry their weight in water,
binding us to what our bodies know.

It is here that we will finally rise.
Here, where the girl will wake
when that warm gust comes,
filled with hints
that she will only guess the answers to.
for David Foster Wallace

And, from Sandy Carlson on her blog, ‘Writing in Faith’ comes this lovely piece about becoming like mountains:

Can the mountains know that they are like us?
That, grand as they are, they will grow
Smaller and smaller and smaller still
Until they are soft hills–

Corners gone, rough edges gone,
Steep and dangerous passes gone
Heights that shape the weather

That the grandeur will give way to
Soft spaces, green and cool,
Secret streams, murmuring pools,
Wordless life…

Can we know that we are like the mountains,
That we might grow small enough
To see the mystery unfold before us
And to feel it within us,
Invisible, infinite, earthy, and true–
That we will crumble into life?

From two different parts of the life cycle, these poems express the movement of spiritual development that can be hand in glove with physical and emotional maturation.

While there has been a lot of solid work done on the topic of faith development and we can’t go too deeply into it here, the following overview may be helpful for our discussion.

James Fowler in his work with stages of faith explains the process of faith development (from Wikipedia)

  • Stage 0 – “Primal or Undifferentiated” faith (birth to 2 years), is characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e.. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse).
  • Stage 1 – “Intuitive-Projective” faith (ages of three to seven), is characterized by the psyche’s unprotected exposure to the unconscious.
  • Stage 2 – “Mythic-Literal” faith (mostly in school children), stage three persons have a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe, and their deities are almost always anthropomorphic.
  • Stage 3 – “Synthetic-Conventional” faith (arising in adolescence) characterized by conformity.
  • Stage 4 – “Individuative-Reflective” faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for their beliefs and feelings.
  • Stage 5 – “Conjunctive” faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems
  • Stage 6 – “Universalizing” faith, or what some might call enlightenment.
  • All these stages are important and build upon each other. If we don’t know the difference between being a child and an adult, how in the world are we going to make the momentous shifts of stages 4, 5 and 6? And so…just exactly what are ‘those childish things’ we’re called on to ‘put away’?

    • It may be the anthropomorphic God and the relatedly anthropocentric universe that most of us live in (stage 2)
    • It may be the conformity to our peer groups–even if our churches or other communal aspects of our lives are invested in that conformity (stage 3)
    • It may be taking any of ‘it’ personally…(stage 4)
    • And it may take mystical experiences to take the edge off boundaries of who we think we are (stage 5)

    Since we don’t live in a culture that helps us put our life experiences on a larger framework that honors the development of the spirit, we have to make it up as we go. We have to figure out how to crumble like mountains.

    It takes a community of those in our own stages as well as a few in the next stage to us, to help us identify our blind spots and open to these new ways of being. We need folks in the stages ‘ahead’ of us: where are we going to find these folks?

    The stage 5 and 6 folks are ‘hiding’ in the most unlikely places. They ARE in the nursing home, ready for someone to listen to their stories and their spoken poetry and connection to their lives. They ARE in hospices, working hard to gain wisdom while there’s still light. They ARE in children with broken, dying bodies (yes, the stages are not always related to age).

    What of those ancient-of-days who are vacant, hollowed out of wisdom and reflection on the purpose of their lives? Our best prayer and practice is to engage them with delight–who knows what pearls are actually there waiting to be discovered and brought to life?

    Further, how do we make a space where this precious life-wisdom is expected, honored and shared?

    • The arts are always a great place for people to explore the right-brained parts of themselves–the integrative functions. How could we incorporate more art of all kinds into our communal lives–making sure that our older members are included and have special honoring?
    • Shouldn’t some of these folks be giving our sermons for us? Isn’t that what podcasts, videologs, etc. could help us do–if they can’t come to the pulpit, take the pulpit to them kind of thing?
    • Have the children help us figure out who are the secret elders. Who do the children instinctively hang with (may be bio-related to them or not) Who do the kids laugh with, make cookies and art with?

    And then…how do we become these treasured folk, these beloved elders, in our communities?

    Ah, well, you can see how I got to the title, ‘the future is ours to see’. My most sincere prayer is to become a spiritually mature elder for my family and the communities I’m part of. I want to crumble like a mountain. Our future lies on each of us praying that same prayer, maybe with different words, but similar conviction.

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