We are God's creation, even as we age.
I am deep in the old man's puzzle, trying to line the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one. At my age you cannot divide spirit from body without anguish and destruction, from which you will speak nothing but crazy lies.
In Robertson Davies' novel The Fifth Business, Padre Blazon, a 76-year-old Jesuit priest, while talking to a younger colleague, points to a truth that most of us never learned. Our body/mind/spirit is one. This is the way God created us. Within our physical being, deep in the sub-molecular level of our cells, every thought, hope, fear, desire, prayer become manifest. Yet, we do not know how to appreciate this deep interconnection of body and soul. We have never learned to listen to the wisdom of the body wherein our soul resides. An important lesson at any age but essential as we grow older.
Many of us were taught that the body is completely separate from the spirit and that God resides "out there," in the ethereal, heavenly, transcendent realm—above, over and beyond our earthly existence. Even if we experience a closer, more intimate relationship with God and know to go "within" to connect with the living spirit that encompasses all of reality, it is rare that we seek a connection with our body in our spiritual quest. That is not understood as part of the process. Our body, though intimately a part of our total being, is most of the time viewed separately as a dissectible, physical object, a complex organic machine that, with the benefit of informed biological research and the miracles of modern medicine, we can keep running for many years.
Although change to our aging bodies is inevitable, all too often we abhor and fear the process. As our appearance alters, our eyes can't read the small print, our joints stiffen when we sit too long, gray hairs sprout, chins sag and wrinkles appear; we look for ways to stop the clock. Without commenting on the benefits (and there are many), or false promises (and there are even more), of anti-aging products and procedures, the media's and medicine's avalanche of anti-aging messages subliminally exacerbate our fear of aging and alienate us further from our bodies and their deep connections with the spirit.
We forget that aging is not the enemy. We have forgotten that in the fairy tales of our youth it is the wise old man who appears in the guise of Father Time to illuminate life's journey with redeeming light, not fear, and gently urges us to see life in its wholeness—to align, as Padre Blazon urged, the wisdom of the spirit with the wisdom of the body. In tales from other cultures, the old woman, the Crone, stands at the crossroads between heaven and earth giving simple directions of how to connect matter and spirit. These mythical figures, Father Time and the Crone, are archetypes who capture the wisdom of the ages. Theirs is a powerful message that has been lost in mainstream culture. They tell us that the natural process of aging is not to be feared; that when we make friends with our bodies and trust the process a wondrous new understanding of our place in God's creation opens up.
A word portrait I created from an interview with a seventy-two year old woman named Nora, captures this wisdom.
It took sixty years to re-member my body, my mind, my soul.
They have been with me all my life, I just never took notice.
Heck, my life course was set.
I was active.
I was attractive.
I got my education.
I got my man.
Life carried me along,
Things were as they were.
OK with me. That's how it goes.
Grey was the color of my next thirty years.
I know I was there, numb but not unhappy.
Things were as they were.
OK with me.
That's how it goes.
My sister's, then my mother's death shocked me from the haze into despair.
Why am I alive?
What can all this mean?
My heart became the trickster.
I too was going to die.
Terrified I lay abed nine months.
Ears and eyes locked shut to the world about,
I was unconscious of the mysterious forces working in my soul.
The alchemy of transformation lies beyond the rational-first comes awareness.
I have a dream, a recurring dream—
Downtown with others I start home and realize
I took the wrong direction.
Jung says a dream is a messenger from the soul.
In my sixties I woke up; transformed, ready for the task
of re-membering my body, mind and soul.
A new-found consciousness filled my being.
Awake and alive I found my work.
I found my life.
Connecting through the soil to all things living as coordinator of a community garden,
A new meaning unfolded within.
Through Yoga I learned to listen to the wisdom of my body.
I connected with the joy of disciplined awareness.
I rejoice in my new-found flexibility towards life.
I am re-membered and rejoice.
Not everyone goes through the debilitating depression that Nora experienced. Aging is a highly personal process, and the spirit works in mysterious ways. But if through increased awareness we open our minds and hearts as we grow older, to appreciate the living, physical reality of every stage of life as part of God's wondrous creation, we will begin to cherish the holistic unity (the re-membering) of our beings and develop a deeper trust in the wisdom of our bodies.
Copyright ©2003 Sally Palmer Thomason