LIVING BY FAITH - August 2006

A letter for the ill, the aged, the shut-in, and the handicapable
Published by the National Family Commission
Secular Franciscan Order, USA

In the spring of 2005, the California desert near Death Valley came into sudden unexpected life. Unusual rains caused the desert to bloom into flowers from seeds that have lain dormant for many years. Flowers of many colors were in full bloom all across the desert. Even varieties of flowers that had not been seen in many years, suddenly sprang into colorful life.

Isaiah (35:1-2) sang to the discouraged people of Israel, "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing." Especially in difficult times, the blossoming in a barren desert is a Biblical symbol of the redeeming Grace of God. God can transform us from the arid plains of the desert to something as wonderful as blossoming fields.

Our culture is youth oriented. It celebrates the strength, beauty and productivity of the young. Aging is considered a time of diminishment and death, and older people are considered unimportant and irrelevant. Aging takes us straight into the mystery of death and resurrection. Jesus promises us new life in John 12:24. "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." This gives us the image of dead seeds rising in a fruitful way.

In later years, life has a different form than when we are in our working years. The stresses of work and raising a family gave us different priorities. Our sense of purpose may be diminished, and we may no longer feel needed. We may lament our physical failings, but we are grateful for the wonders of the world and the many gifts and blessings that we have received throughout our lifetimes.

This is now a time in our life when we can take the time to listen to others, and love others in the most ordinary of ways. It may seem an insignificant contribution in this world based on productivity, but it is the main message of Jesus. We can deepen our relationship with God in many ways and nurture a life of contemplation. Contemplative living not only supports graceful aging; it lessens the fear of death and all the smaller deaths that shadow it. It is in prayer and meditation that we come to know God more intimately.

Today, older adults in the United States are reclaiming the role of the wise elder, encouraging others to take care of the world for future generations, and to have peace on earth. The world desperately needs older people, with compassion deepened through decades of experience, to care for our endangered planet.

As we age, we discover the joy of living a simpler life, and material belongings no longer promise the fulfillment they once did. The liberation of having less "things" to take care of gives us time to develop new talents, concentrate on improving relationships, and contribute to the needs of the world. We can make a new beginning as we age with grace and find new purpose. It takes trust and courage to let God transform our losses into fresh beginnings. God will be with us as we age with grace, and travel through the darkness that buried seeds experience before they burst into bloom.

Previous issue (July 2006)