American culture tends to idolize youth and bestow little grace or honor on the elderly. For Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and the founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation, this is cause for concern.
Writing in Sojourners(free registration required), Rohr traces the spiritual development of Western ideas about aging–from pre-Christian myth, which idealized the past, to classical Christian spirituality, which looked ahead to the afterlife, rather than to one’s twilight years. Neither of these models was particularly conducive to developing a culture where the elderly are respected and admired, and wisdom is cultivated.
Western culture needs more reverence toward age and aging, Rohr argues. His description of the spiritual essence of that reverence is where the piece is most striking:
We are no longer in touch with the inherently self-renewing and patient nature of time and aging. Thus we are swimming against the spiritual tide of life–where the now is always full and free, and where time itself renews all things.
For another take on wisdom and elders, readThe New Elders from the September/October issue of Utne Reader.