Fresh Thinking, Inspiration, and Vision on the Process of Spiritual Transformation
Something I’ve been pondering is the matter of the subsuming of our own personal desires for the good of the whole, which can be seen as self-sacrifice and martyrdom and has, many times I think, through the ages, been interpreted that way. That’s not how I see it. The way I see it is that that is where the truth of someone comes from, in paying attention to what is good for the whole. And in speaking about the whole, I’m speaking about God. What would God have happen through me on this planet? And, you know, the interesting thing is that the true self-satisfaction comes that way without martyrdom.
Lately thoughts have come into my head that, given that there are quite a few miles on the odometer, maybe it is time to slow down. There are others who would suggest that to me, too—others who have concerns but don’t have understanding about what it is that I am actually engaged in doing. It is a job that does not come to an end. There is no official retirement age on that job.
I had a chance to look at this, because I love being honest about things. I don’t want to be in denial. I have to look at the possibility that perhaps this is something that’s coming from deep within me, saying, okay, now it’s time to rest. The only useful part of that meditation was to come to an understanding that that is not an arbitrary decision that is mine to make. Those decisions will get made at some point, but it won’t be from me reviewing all the factors and saying, “Okay, now it’s time to settle back and have all those things to which I am entitled.”
There are millions and millions of people in the world who don’t have that “luxury,” and I put “luxury” in quotes because for me to settle for a state where the world has to take care of me—something like a welfare state—would be a death sentence. That’s something I know deep down, because it’s not what I came to do. I came to live to the fullest, without putting time limits on it, without saying, “Okay, God, you can have me till I’m 65, and then I’ll have me for the rest of the time.” No, I won’t. Depending on the view of who I am, I won’t.
So this is not to ignore the fact that some of us have various limitations or to suggest that it’s wrong not to be globetrotting, or any of those kinds of things. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the attitude of service, which is where the true fulfillment comes from.
While I was pondering these things for myself, I started thinking about that international group called The Elders, which was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, when he was 89. I would like to read their names: Kofi Annan; Ela Bhatt; Lakhdar Brahimi; Gro Brundtland; Fernando Cardoso; Jimmy Carter; Graça Machel; Mary Robinson (who I’ve been tracking for a long time—she was the first woman prime minister of Ireland and she wasn’t “young” when she took that job); Desmond Tutu; and Mohammad Yunus. Then there are two honorary elders: Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi (who is the woman who has spent most of her recent life under house arrest for her activities). How the world would have been impoverished if those people had decided at a certain point that “God knows, I’ve done enough” and decided to retire.
They are doing work of one sort, and I am talking about work that doesn’t necessarily put me or us on the world scene but work that is nonetheless essential; it’s potent, and it’s real. We are a vibrational ministry, so I’m talking about the work that we do internally as being what we are about, and not to diminish that in my own consciousness. Even if I were to sit alone in my house for weeks on end, I would not be unemployed. I would be serving, because that’s what I came to do.
Revelation has been very much with me lately. I can’t claim that I comprehend all of what there is, or even most of what there is, in Revelation, but there is something about Revelation that tells me that we are actually in the time of revelations. This is the time that was prophesied in that Book in the Bible.
There is a very strong imperative for those of us who have had a lot of life experience and successfully navigated through it to get to this point—where we didn’t become embittered by what for some of us has been a rocky road—to be ready to assist others. Those experiences have served for me to have more understanding of what other people have to navigate. The responsibility of an elder, which is how I see myself now, is a good deal larger than was required in the phase that required a lot of “doing.” There is a different kind of consciousness required and a responsibility to share the learning from those experiences.
My main job now, as I see it, is to be a beacon to those who are coming along, and even those in my own age group, to say that there’s no need at any point to settle. Settle to me is like an old house that is cracking on its foundation. Well, not my choice, thank you. It’s a very unappetizing picture.
I’d also mention that years don’t make elders. There are young people who are elders, and that has to do with the wisdom they carry. There are old people who I would describe as “olders,” rather than elders, and that is not a judgment; it’s just an acknowledgment. I believe that you don’t merit respect and you are not entitled even to being considered an elder unless you’re still doing the work. If the revelations do not continue to come, where is the fresh water coming from? Where is the new life coming from that was being spoken about in Paulette Lieska’s poem, which was read earlier? If I decided to just maintain now, well that would be a choice—but not my choice, because I need to be continuously looking at what it is I am doing in my life.
Barb Duff, here at Edenvale, spoke recently about not taking anything just on anybody’s say-so. I would include myself in that. If I adamantly say that this is the way things are, I am not allowing for the possibility that things have changed. Maybe that view was formed at a different time, under different circumstances. I need to keep checking. When I hear myself say, “I know,” it is always a key to me to start looking at that knowing. One thing I do know for sure is that I’m here to serve; and if I’m not serving, I’m not happy. Serving has got this bad connotation, as if it is something that is unnatural, contrived, forced. And yes, it has been for some people—the self-sacrificing, martyrdom thing. That’s been true for some people, and at times it was probably true for me. But that attitude is not real; it’s not true and it doesn’t bring life. And if it doesn’t bring life, then it’s wrong. That is something else I learned.
I was recently reading Ecclesiastes (which some have attributed to Solomon). Whoever it was who wrote Ecclesiastes obviously had all kinds of privileges, all kinds of riches—including intellectual riches—showered upon them. And yet there’s a tone of sadness in a lot of Ecclesiastes. There is mention of “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8) This portrays a certain poignant feeling that caused me to start thinking about the fact that this is not how fulfillment comes. That does not mean that we have to be poor or uneducated. It does not mean there are things that we can’t have. It’s much more to do with who is it that’s having them, and what is the purpose of having them? What do we do with those things when we have them?
Toward the end of Ecclesiastes, the author said:
“And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12,13)
That is another way to describe the first two Commandments. And if we keep those, all the rest is usable but not something that we need to spend our life chasing. We will not be deluded into thinking that knowledge is wisdom. It is not. It’s intellectual know-how and can be useful in the hands of the right person. This quotation also speaks to the need to convey something that is useful to the person to whom we’re speaking. It is great to have intellect—we need it—but experience trumps intellect every time. I know that to be true. You can get into all kinds of intellectual discussions about things with someone and you can know that this person is still lost or still looking. It is my belief that it is often an illustration of wisdom that we do not lay on somebody else all our learning, all our intellect, all our spiritual know-how. That can prove to be putting obstacles in someone’s way, even if it were true that we had, to the extent we thought we had, all those attributes. Martin Exeter described wisdom as a sense of the fitness of things.
I have had experiences that let me know that all I need to do is to be me, and if that’s attractive to anybody they will want to know more. I have had that happen in my family, where I have been pretty much accused of withholding information about what it is I know. That is a very good sign! That way I can be sure that they know I am not imposing anything upon them.
This Emissary ministry is on the verge of, and even into, something very new, something very large and something very important. It is not just this ministry. I know you all know the signs that are showing up on the planet that make it obvious that there is much more going on than was ever accepted, even just a few years ago. But this ministry is what I’ve chosen as my vehicle on this planet. The experience of years, the experience of having navigated that rocky road, having known that on the other side of the rocky roads are green pastures, is something that is going to be very necessary in our ministry as this big new vision comes into view, and further afield in the world. The stability that we know is going to be called upon in the next while.
I am up for that. I am up for staying steady with whatever is going on. There is a need to refrain from judgment about whatever is going on on this planet, in the cosmos (which I actually don’t have too much familiarity with), and in our ministry. I know that I am here to serve the whole. This ministry is without question the most meaningful part of the whole that has been present in my life, and I am here to serve.
With this in mind, I read the 23rd Psalm again and I saw something different.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
The part that struck me in a very different way was “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” To me, that speaks of service. The point is not that I am going to be showered with goodness and mercy. It is that wherever I go, goodness and mercy will follow me. That is my intent.
I want to thank you for your beautiful words in the “Eldership” piece. Warmed my heart to think about the service I’ve done over the last 25+ years with Pathways To Peace, and look at my role today as an elder… I think of my co-founder and I as the Grandmothers of the organization, founded in 1983.
I especially love the paragraph:
“My main job now, as I see it, is to be a beacon to those who are coming along, and even those in my own age group, to say that there’s no need at any point to settle. Settle to me is like an old house that is cracking on its foundation. Well, not my choice, thank you. It’s a very unappetizing picture.”
I guess I’m also in the “Work” for life… in one form or another. It is just part of my fabric. It takes different forms as I age and change my foci; and over the past couple of years it’s been getting ready to marry and enjoying the newness of married life — imagine, first time, and I’m on Medicare! And, on occasion, I’m finding that I get to share some of what I’ve learned over the years (wisdom?) with my new family of five children and ten grandchildren.
So while much of my life is about joining my husband in “retirement”, we do serve our community of elders by hosting events and sharing the love and friendship we have found. And occasionally I venture newly into the peacebuilding work that has nurtured me and helped me to grow and contribute to our world. And I continue to learn from people like you and the many other wise ones who touch me. I am even taking two on-line courses: Awakening Joy (from a Buddhist perspective) and Non-violent Communication (e.g. empathy, compassion… Marshall Rosenberg’s work – see baynvc.org); and a course for seniors on documentary film, in preparation for our volunteer time at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Seems like a pretty good and full life, eh? I spend a LOT of time in gratitude, and the “Work” goes on….
Love, peace and many blessings, Joanie Ciardelli
I needed to touch a heart of gold this morning and there you are! I will turn 65 next year and I always say when some ask about my retiring, “I’m never going to retire! I want to work forever”, I am reminded of a service Martin gave, where he referred to the fact that we are never unemployed… I am here to serve, that is the reason I am here. Remembering this, everything makes sense and my heart rests and “I want to work forever”!
Thank you so much for your eldership.
With much love,