What Do We Mean Here by “Spirituality”?

Broadly speaking, spirituality can be thought of as referring to the “inner life” the realm of reflection, wonder and attempts to understand life’s meaning and its purpose as we move through the stages of life. It can refer to engagement with our deepest values at the core of our being and how these guide us through life. It is a sense that there is something greater than oneself, and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine in nature.

The spiritual journey is one of seeking understanding, wholeness, and fulfillment. Our spiritual journey provides us with a bridge between the inner life and our daily earthly existence. As we age, and as we experience both the joys and sorrows of life, we become more aware of the mysteries of life, and we often seek to grow further into this inner life. This is the journey that a specific ministry on aging can attend to and nourish for its older adult members.

Aging and Development Through the Lifespan

We can divide life into three broad parts or “acts”, as in the acts of a play. In the first act, from birth, through childhood and adolescence, to the onset of adulthood, we are born, we become educated, and we adapt to the culture in which we live. Our experience with spiritual matters at this stage typically involves being educated in the faith of our family members through Sunday School, youth group and perhaps family prayer traditions or church attendance.

In the second act of life, we enter adulthood, we seek our life’s work, and we often find a partner with whom to share life. In this second act, from early adulthood to the brink of retirement (often in our 60s), we play out our major life roles of work, family, social engagement, and community involvement. In this stage, many find a career and raise a family. Our spiritual tasks here often involve becoming part of a church community, passing the faith on to our children and perhaps engaging in some form of service to others.

In the third act of life, we eventually disengage from our work life and begin to have more time to explore and enjoy life beyond work. For many, this might include such joys as grandchildren, hobbies, creative activities, travel, service to others through volunteerism and more time with friends and family. But this stage of life inevitably brings new challenges as well – through illness, personal losses of many kinds and, eventually, the end of our earthly existence.

It is this vast realm of both joy and sorrow, the need to rethink the meaning and purpose of our lives, and the existential questions of life and death that we eventually meet in our later years. These things all have a spiritual dimension. In the third act, while we might continue a life-long pattern of church attendance, prayer life and/or service activities, we also experience new, significant, and sometimes existential issues that require a new perspective and understanding. These are the places where a specialized ministry on aging within the church can meet us, guide us and sustain us through the uncertainties surrounding the changes we experience in later life.

Next Month in the Shalom:

A Call for a distinct Ministry on Aging & Spirituality (the four cornerstones of a ministry on aging and spirituality).