I pop my touring skis on and begin a slow uphill climb over rain saturated snow on this perfectly typical northwest day. I’m grateful for the time and space to spend this day in reflection, prayer, and worship. That I’m able to do it in a cathedral that is the mountain forest where I live makes it even better. Because it’s just my dog and me, I’m able to enjoy a bit of music on the way up. I have a playlist that’s chosen by metronome value, not genre or content, so that it paces my uphill ascent. Because of this, I might get Lady Gaga, or Usher, Dave Crowder, or James Taylor. In the midst of it, though, I get the timeless hymn, “Be Still My Soul” and the words (below) are ripe for me this day, poignant in their beauty. This is because my neighbor lost his wife suddenly a few weeks ago, and a good friend, a Catholic priest whose mountain cabin was near ours had his memorial service this past Sunday. At 80 and in great health (a skier who’d submitted Rainier six times) my friend visited to the doctor because of a back-ache and, to quote his letter to many of us: “I went in with a back ache, and came out with terminal cancer.” He was gone in two short months.
Before “Be Still My Soul” showed up on my randomized playlist though, there was “Memories“ by Maroon 5:
Here's to the ones that we got Cheers to the wish you were here, but you're not 'Cause the drinks bring back all the memories Of everything we've been through Toast to the ones here today Toast to the ones that we lost on the way 'Cause the drinks bring back all the memories And the memories bring back, memories bring back you
There's a time that I remember, when I did not know no pain When I believed in forever, and everything would stay the same Now my heart feel like December when somebody say your name 'Cause I can't reach out to call you, but I know I will one day, yeah
With each passing day, and more so with each passing birthday, I’m mindful of the brevity of life. I love the lines above about that time when we “believed in forever, and (that) everything would stay the same.” Now, countless losses and painful changes later, we know better. We know, with the poets of the Bible, that we’re like summer wildflowers, given the grace and gift of presence in the world for but a moment and then, poof - it’s over. I feel it, literally, in my bones, with each passing year.
Strangely, though, I‘ve no sense of regret about this and I think that’s because as we age, we’re granted the gift of growth in wisdom, and perspective. Hopefully, we’re able to share the accumulated gifts that have ripened in our lives freely with those whose lives intersect with ours. I’m sad to say that it doesn’t always happen this way, sad to report that it’s easy to become more fearful and bitter as we grow older. Without intentionality, our lives are at risking of shrinking rather than enlarging, as we fixate on changes we didn’t chose, and loss of perfect health, and generational shiftS.
If we‘re to continue blossoming for the full length of our lives, we’ll need to commit to several things:
Stay Curious - It doesn’t matter whether you’re twenty or sixty, or sixty-six, you don’t know everything. You don’t even know everything about whatever it is you know best, be it writing code, or surgery, building houses, or making pizza.
I’m presently reading lots of Christian mystics, Eastern Orthodox and Celtic history, and a book about mushrooms and the mycelium network. I’m learning that I was right to be suspicious of some things those many years ago back in seminary, learning that there’s a bigger world of people who love God than just American evangelicals, learning that ‘your version’ or ‘my version’ of truth is just that: mine. Isn’t that part of what Paul the apostle had in mind when he said, “I haven’t yet arrived, but this one thing I do, forgetting what is behind…“.
It’s those who’ve arrived who become the turf defenders, but I’m beginning to wonder if we’re defending truth because we’re utterly convinced its true or because ”this is the way we’ve always done it (or thought it, or taught it, or believed it). Don’t worry, my curiosity hasn’t led to an abandonment of Jesus. To the contrary, I’m more in love with Jesus than ever, and less afraid of asking hard questions.
Stay Active - Physically, yes, if possible. There’s plenty of evidence that God made our bodies for motion and activity, and that we’ll be better off in our final chapters of life if we do what we can to stay active. I’m done competing with others, and am almost over my insecurities when I ski with people In their 20’s/30’s. The joy of moving, breathing, and living as part of God’s created order isn’t just precious to me - it’s a context of profound worship.
Activity, though, doesn’t require a heart monitor and aerobic exercise. Maybe it’s pottery, or painting, or making bread or amazing meals. Maybe it’s taking people to the zoo. Maybe it’s writing, or photography. Whatever it is that God has made you to do, for God’s sake DO IT! This is part of your worship.
Stay Generous - In a culture that sometimes idolizes youth, it’s tempting for we who are older to believe that we don’t have much to give, or to feel a sense of insignificance by virtue of our age and generational experiences. As I continue to teach 18 year olds in various places in the world, the report I bring back from the field is just the opposite. Most young adults who meet someone with a few decades under their belt are eager to learn from their experiences, and this is especially true if we approach these relationships with a sense of mutuality. That means we realize we have things to give… and…things to learn. Keep giving of your time, your money, your wisdom, your strength. Pour it out friends!
I have three more qualities I’ll encourage you to foster:
But we’ll save those for next time. For now…
The song “Memories” ends as I turn the corner and head to the steep part of this uphill journey. The trip up today has been a metaphor, a time of recalling memories, relationships, successes, risks, failures, joys, sorrows, travels. “It’s been quite a ride” I say, as I turn the corner and a new song begins:
Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain Leave to thy God to order and provide In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake To guide the future as He has the past Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Did you catch that?
In every change, He faithful will remain
Yes God, and I’ll quiet my soul and walk with you, however steep, however challenging, because I know that you will, as the lyrics declare “order and provide”. Thanks be to you for doing that for 66 years. May the remainder be filled with curiosity, generosity, and activity.