I'm currently enrolled in an extremely thoughtful on-line course about aging led by the great spiritual teacher, Marianne Williamson. The course is called "Aging Miraculously."
As I approach my 77th birthday, Marianne is stimulating me to rethink this Third Act of my life. Her course is making me less willing to "retire" from it all as one mistakenly identified with this rapidly changing body. I'm more anxious to "re-fire" the spirit I truly am -- the Self that never ages. I'm realizing that the time I have left on earth is far too short for me to surrender to the life of an elderly spectator.
Such awareness was reinforced last night during a conversation with five dear friends of mine. The youngest pair among us were in their mid-60s; the rest of us were in our late 70s and early 80s. (Even writing those words frightens me!)
In any case, there we were reviewing the ills of the world:
- The gradual disappearance of democracy
- Its replacement with plutocracy and authoritarianism
- Class warfare: the unending wars of the world's richest (the U.S. the E.U., Israel, Saudi Arabia) against the planet's most impoverished (e.g. in Palestine, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. . .)
The question of faith came up and its power to change all of that.
Now, mind you, all of us in the conversation identified ourselves as followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Nevertheless, my friends (none of them taking Marianne's course) seemed convinced that faith has no power to alter the problems we were busy rehearsing.
Selfish human nature reigns supreme, one friend (also, a former priest) insisted. It's unredeemable. So nothing can ever really change -- except for the worse. What we do in church is meaningless as far as engagement with the world is concerned. No one really understands any of it anyway. But that's the best we can do. It's foolish and a waste of time and energy to think otherwise. We must settle for the mediocre.
And, in any case, we're all old! So all that's left for us is to finish out the few years we have left with our low expectations intact -- just enjoying the moment and (cocktails in hand) being happy. Our work is over. God expects no more from us. The world's problems are no longer ours. They belong to our children. And good luck to them with that!
With Marianne's instruction in mind, I wanted to shout: "Stop, stop! Cancel! I don't want to hear that! Precisely because I'm a community elder, I have no time left for such small-time thinking and pessimism.
"In fact, it's all an insult to God. We're talking about faith here. -- about the power of God and of God's word to change the world and its consciousness that condemns us, our children, our grandchildren, and the very planet to destruction. Don't you see that despite the faith we claim, we're denying that power? We're arrogantly claiming that we and the world's thinking and technology somehow have more clout than God himself -- that the Almighty stands impotent before the likes of The Donald, Mad Dog Mattis, our computers, robots -- and desperate fears!
"I refuse to believe that. Please stop! Cancel!
"And besides: the power of faith to change the world has been undeniably demonstrated. It's just that as successfully propagandized, relatively comfortable white 'Americans' we've bought into the 'official story' as narrated on Fox News. It wants us to believe that it's all hopeless.
"We've fallen into their trap!
"However, the fact is that the world has already been changed dramatically by faith-in-action. And for more than 60 years, it's scared the hell out of the fearful little people at the top. Since the Civil Rights movement (beginning with Brown in 1954), they've been desperate to cram that genie of faith-inspired human liberation back into its bottle. But it simply won't fit.
"Since Vatican II (1962-'65) and the emergence of liberation theology at Medellin (1968), backward church authorities (like Paul II and Benedict XVI) have been doing the same thing -- with the same result. The genie is loose forever. Thank God.