Four Ways Spirituality Shapes How We Age

Pictured above, Rev. Susan Walker (standing) teaches a Sightlines class this month at Christ Church on Capitol Hill.

This month, Seabury launched Sightlines, a new pilot program with the Episcopal Diocese of Washington exploring how we respond to transitions in our lifespan. The Rev. Susan K. Walker, a Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and visiting seminarian Paula Pavanis collaborated with Seabury Congregational Resources Coordinator, Elizabeth Boyd, to develop this curriculum. This multi-part course exposes older adults to spiritual resources for aging, reframes broader questions associated with aging through a spiritual lens, and helps participants reflect theologically on their experiences and hopes as they grow older. Below, we offer a few reflections from the course:

 

Spirituality shapes how we age.

Our goals as we age, how we build community to support us, how we find balance after employment and/or parenting, and how we think about life and death—these are all spiritual questions. Our experience of the divine, our religious convictions, our existential questions all influence how we face the challenges of life as an older adult, rework our identity during retirement, and build a life of meaning as we age. Accordingly, we must think of spirituality as an integral part of who we are as we age, not a separate piece of our identity.

Spirituality is an especially useful tool during retirement.

Retirement forces us to struggle with the tension between being and doing. How do we define ourselves outside of a career and/or life as a parent? What are the values and beliefs that give contours to our identity? Spirituality opens us to a sense of ourselves outside of work and allows us to adapt to the changes of aging, as well as identifying new vocations. For example, spiritual disciplines, such as meditation or prayer, may help with discernment during retirement; religious community serves as a social support network; personal reading and introspection allows us to embrace the difficult questions and personal growth that come with aging; acts of charity and justice serve as a new means of self-definition and purpose during retirement.

Spirituality allows us to honor our bodies as we age.

Rather than perceiving physical changes negatively, spirituality redirects our attention toward positive affirmation and appreciation. Viewing our body as a divine gift, spirituality reshapes the way we think and speak about our bodies as we age. Instead of being angry or dissatisfied, we can honor our physical changes and needs. Through meditative practices that invite us to focus on our bodies, we can thank our bodies for their good use and service throughout our lives. Visiting seminarian Paula Pavanis (pictured below, standing) led participants in contemplative practices during each session. 

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Spirituality challenges us to confront ageism.

Spirituality builds our sense of self-esteem; although we experience changes as we age, we find our self-worth firstly in God’s love for us. Through that affirmation, we also find strength to counter negative attitudes and treatment as older adults. Through spiritual disciplines and community, we learn to challenge our own assumptions about aging and take action together against unfair treatment for older adults.  

To learn more about Sightlines and Seabury’s work supporting healthy aging through congregations, contact Elizabeth Boyd, Congregational Resources Coordinator, at eboyd@seaburyresouces.org. 

 

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