Date: August 27, 2017
Title: “Authentically You – At Any Age”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Psalm 71; Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
I recently heard a story of college friends, a small group of them, who decide to have their own private reunion every few years. The first year, when they are all 30 years old, they get together to renew acquaintances and see how life is treating one another. Soon the question arises, “Where should we go for dinner?” And one of them suggests, “Let’s go to the Branding Iron…the servers are young there and easy on the eye.”
Fifteen years later, they are 45 years old and gathering again, when one of them asks “Where should we go for dinner?” and another responds, “Let’s go to the Branding Iron…they have the best food and the finest wine cellar in town.” Again, another fifteen years passes. They are now 60 years old when the question comes, “Where should we go for dinner?” The now familiar answer – “Let’s go to the Branding Iron.” Only this time, the reason given is “It’s quiet there, and we’ll be able to have a good conversation.”
Twenty years go by and they gather as 80 year olds, wondering “Where should we go for dinner?” One of them offers, “Let’s go to the Branding Iron…it’s handicap accessible.” And finally, fifteen years later, those who remain are 95 years old. When one of them wonders “Where should we go for dinner?”, another suggests, “Let’s go to the Branding Iron…we’ve never been there before!”
My friends, we laugh because we recognize ourselves in the story. Every one of us here is somewhere in the process of aging. In fact, when you leave worship this morning, you will be a little bit older than you were when you came in. Now, I don’t mean to depress you, but I do want to remind you that aging is one of the most dominant phenomena we have in life. Everything that has life is constantly aging. Aging itself may be what we have most in common – all of us are moving sequentially through the stages of life. Some lucky ones take many years in the journey, while for others it is significantly shorter. So why is it that we are so often hesitant to talk about aging? And why is it so difficult for us to accept, even to embrace aging, for what it is?
I won’t be releasing any secrets if I say that in this country, we often seem to dismiss aging – and the elderly – altogether. We honor the young with attention and we assume their energy is a reflection of their abilities. We invest in the “cult of the young” to the point of spending hours in the gym, or eagerly injecting toxins into our faces to fit in with that crowd. It is like we are trying to put a new paint job on that 1975 Pinto, all the while hoping no one will notice when the muffler falls off!
You know we tend to equate beauty and assign value to youth. And this is nothing new. Cicero, a Roman lawyer and politician at the height of his career 63 years before Jesus, noted that everyone hopes to live through to old age, but then everyone complains about it when it arrives.
Leonardo da Vinci, like many of his contemporaries, looked upon elderly faces as “monstrous wrecks”. We have been denigrating and denying aging for centuries. But others – like Rembrandt – managed to embrace aging. He painted old age with nobility, recognizing the marks of time as beautiful, mysterious, and rich.
Compare, if you will, his “self portrait at age 34” – where he dresses in rich clothing and assumes an air of superiority, even snobbery, to his “self portrait at age 63” – where his clothing relaxes and his face softens with the wisdom of humility. Comparing those two paintings, you begin to see that this process of aging is really meant to make us better and more beautiful. Because it is intended to teach us life’s most important lessons.
One of my favorite cinematic reminders of the value of aging is the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, in which a young man in India is determined to succeed by turning the dilapidated old hotel he inherits from his father into a luxury home for aging British citizens. When the first seven guests arrive and find the place in a shambles Sonny assures them – Everything will be all right in the end. So if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.
And I am reminded of Cicero’s wisdom
Nature has but a single path and you travel it only once.
Each stage of life has its own appropriate qualities – weakness in childhood, boldness in youth, seriousness in middle age, and maturity in old age. These are fruits that must be harvested in due season.
Or, as the preacher of Ecclesiastes puts it…For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven… So how do we age with grace and dignity and honor? I think the trick is to inhabit every season, to be present to every time with all that we are, and all that we might yet become. Carl Jung put it this way: The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. And Judi Dench’s character in the movie echoes that sentiment when she says:
India, like life itself, I suppose, is about what you bring to it. This is a new and different world, and the challenge is to cope with it – and not just to cope with it, but to thrive. For how many new lives can we have? As many as we like.
We can have as many new lives as we like – but only if we are willing to inhabit them fully, each in their own season, each in their own time. There is a Buddhist story about a man fleeing from a tiger.
The man plunges over a cliff, and saves himself at the last instant, only by catching hold of a small strawberry plant growing between the rocks of the precipice. Caught between the tiger above and the gorge below, the man clings to the bush with one hand, thinks for a moment, and then with the other hand he picks the most delicious strawberry he has eaten in his entire life.
Sr. Joan Chittister suggests It is age that teaches us to enjoy life, to savor every moment of it, to be present where we are and see it for the first time … even if that means finding the courage to let go with one hand in order to experience the best strawberry ever. Even if it means risking authenticity at every age, trusting God’s presence enough to be who we are wherever we are.
Social researcher Brene Brown writes:
When I started thinking about what it really means to practice authenticity, I realized that choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be emotionally honest. Choosing to be authentic means choosing to set boundaries that allow us to be vulnerable and safe. It means exercising compassion, knowing that we are all made of strength and our own share of struggle. It means nurturing the connections we share when we let go of what we are “supposed to be” and embrace who we truly are.
Authenticity is a daily choice. And it doesn’t matter if you are 1 or 101, the choice is up to you. It is a choice to show up. It is a choice to inhabit your life and all the seasons of your life. It is a choice to be real, and honest, to be visible and courageous. It is a choice to be compassionate, to be connected, to be PRESENT. It is a choice to trust God as the Psalmist did… To run for dear life to God… and never live to regret it. To hang onto God from birth to death, from the cradle to the grave, knowing that God is also making a choice to show up and inhabit your life and mine in all of our seasons.
So aging – it is a new and different world. And our challenge is not just to cope, but to thrive. For we can have as many new lives as we like when we are authentically ourselves…at any age. Thanks be to God! Amen.