More than 20 years ago, I read Eugene Bianchi’s insightful book titled, Aging as a Spiritual Journey. In the book, Bianchi looked to examine many of the difficult challenges and more positive options facing people in older adulthood. He looked at this through a more holistic lens bringing together ideas from religion, sociology, psychology and the humanities to form a spirituality of aging.
Bianchi called for older adults to seek a more contemplative path in the midst of the seemingly endless nature of life’s activities pressing in on older adults. He asked older adults to examine themselves inwardly so that they may emerge more ready to engage the world with a discerning eye to healthy, constructive aging.
When I read the book, it had already been around for more than 10 years. I remember thinking that Bianchi (now almost 35 years ago) was on the “cutting edge” of what it means to be an older adult. This book was counter-cultural in that it encouraged older adults to not allow society to push them to the edges of society and, instead, seek to engage their communities and the world around them more creatively using their well-earned wisdom.
I found a strong message of hope in Bianchi’s book, encouraging older adults to live their lives fully and creatively, looking to be who they were created to be. Yet, as hopeful and encouraging as I found the book’s message to be, it seemed to reduce the spiritual to a program or set of factors to consider so one could be more spiritual while one ages.
As I reflect on spirituality and healthy aging, I find it helpful to consider the possibility of changing one word in Bianchi’s title to better characterize what I am thinking. I would change the as to is so my thought would be aging is a spiritual journey. To me, this signifies a shift from compartmentalizing the spiritual nature of who we are, making it a program or something to achieve, to honoring the reality that we are spiritual beings and all of life then is a spiritual journey.
I have served several congregations over the years and it has become increasingly obvious to me that all of life is a spiritual journey. And now as I serve as the Campus Pastor at Lutheran Sunset Ministries, it continues to ring true. I have talked with residents here at Lutheran Sunset and many of them have sensed God with them throughout their entire lives, not just as older adults.
Most of the older adults with whom I have had conversation around this very thing would find it a strange concept that our spirituality might be viewed as a program or a set of choices to consider so one could be more spiritual while one ages. Most older adults I know might see spirituality as a way of being that knows all of life as sacred, spiritual. They would understand all of life is a spiritual journey lived connected fully and deeply to the Divine One who gives us life, who gives us Spirit.
In Genesis 2 we read that God, tenderly, lovingly and creatively, got down into the mud and formed a human being and blew the breath of life into its nostrils. The Hebrew word for breath here, ruach, also means spirit and wind. If we consider a fuller understanding of ruach, the very act of blowing breath into the human was a wind from God’s own breath or Spirit which animated the human giving human beings life. So in the deepest sense we are created spiritual beings, even filled with God’s Spirit.
So it seems to me that the key to healthy aging, or healthy living for that matter, is to recognize God’s presence in each and every moment of life, in each breath that we take. This is our Spirituality: our God is as close to us as each and every breath we take, breathing into us God’s own Spirit. This is how we truly live.
We live with a built-in, deep-down sense that there is the Divine flow, if you will, of giving and receiving, breathing in and breathing out, that animates all of existence, that enlivens each and every one of us – quite literally. There is, then, a sacredness, a Spiritualness in each and every moment, in every breath that we take.
The truth is that we are all aging as we make our life’s journey and our entire journey is a spiritual journey. So aging is indeed a spiritual journey with our God. As we become more fully aware that all of life is sacred, Spirit-filled, Spirit-powered we find in every task, every experience, every choice an opportunity to serve the One who breathes life into us.
It seems to me that healthy aging is a realization of our deep, intimate connection to our God who enlivens, empowers us for the journey. When we know that our God is as close to us as our next breath we recognize the beauty, the meaning, the blessing and the gifts of being alive, even in the midst of the messiness that is real life—lives that also involve pain, loss, sickness and worries.
When we approach our lives as a spiritual journey, we find true purpose and meaning in our daily encounters, the ups and downs, the challenges. And we come to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our potential, and use all of life’s experiences to move us forward on our journeys.
So as I think about healthy aging, my advice would be, “Don’t forget to breathe.” Yes, take a breath. Breathe in the Breath of Life once again. It will change you in ways you can not yet imagine. You will find the key to living and continue on your journey. For our God is as close as a breath to us. Glory be to God!
Article by Doug Nemitz, Lutheran Sunset Ministries’ Campus Pastor.by