Are You Still Re-Digging the Wells Your Parents Dug?

Genesis 26:18

18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them.”

One of the important themes raised by Rabbi Richard Address at last weekend’s Long and Winding Road event centred around Genesis 26:18, which recounts how Isaac re-dug the wells his father Abraham had built and which had now been stopped up by the Philistines following the death of Abraham. The text raises a powerful question which we in the Boomer generation do well to examine. Are we re-digging the wells that our parents dug?

What is Isaac trying to do?

Is he trying to establish his own identity by digging new wells where the old ones had been?

Or is he still trying to win his father’s approval? Remember that Isaac’s relationship with his father Abraham was a complicated one. You will recall that Abraham, in a blind and misguided attempt to demonstrate his faith in God, actually came close to sacrificing his son Isaac. Imagine the post-traumatic stress Isaac would have carried with him all his life as a result of his father’s gross misunderstanding of what God required of him.

While there are too many in our society that continue to suffer abuse, emotionally or physically, at the hands of troubled parents, it is also true that those of us who were blessed by reasonably good and loving parents also wrestle with questions not unlike those identified by Rabbi Address. The parent-child relationship never goes away. Think of Esau and Jacob and how Jacob deceived his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that by birth should have gone to Esau. Granted, he had assistance from his conniving and manipulative mother Rebekah, but the theft may also be seen as a desperate attempt on Jacob’s part to win his father’s approval.

I always remember reading where the famous and highly decorated British general Field Marshall Bernhard Montgomery cried on his deathbed, “Why did my mother never love me?”

It would seem that our family of origin has tremendous power over our lives, even long after we have left the nest. Address says we never really escape it.

So take some to ponder these questions. Are you still re-digging the wells that your parents dug? Or are you building new wells of opportunity, grace and love and fashioning your own identity?

I will be away on study leave the week of November 29th to December 6th inclusive, but I would love to hear your answers when I get back. Please Note: There will be no blog next week. I will see you again the week of December 6th!

Why Am I Here?

My mind is still reeling after the wonderfully inspirational messages shared  this weekend at Siloam by Rabbi Richard Address of Jewish Sacred Aging. Rabbi Address began “Our Long and Winding Road” event with an invitation to a spiritual journey, encouraging us to embark on a path that will lead to a “mature spirituality.”

Drawing on his deep knowledge of the scriptures, the rich traditions of Judaism, and authoritative writers like Viktor Frankl, Ernst Becker, Irvin D. Yalom and others,  Address discussed the most profound text in the whole Bible: Genesis 3, what one of his seminary professors called the “finite factuality” and “the most important aspect of the founding or birth of religion.”  It is this chapter that introduces our mortality.

Genesis 3, Address notes, raises the three “Why” questions of our existence:

  1. Why was I born?
  2. Why must I die?
  3. Why am I here?

These are not easy questions, but they are ones which each one of us must wrestle with if we are to arrive at a mature spirituality. We can never fully answer the first and second questions, but it is what we do between birth and death that really counts.

Address’ words remind me of the wonderful poem by Linda Ellis, which I quote here:

The Dash

the poem by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

© 1996-2020 Southwestern Inspire Kindness, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

By Linda Ellis, Copyright © 2020 Inspire Kindness, thedashpoem.com

Great news! At Age 60 You reach the top of your potential and this continues into your eighties!

Recently a friend and colleague sent me the following information, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It gives hope to all of us in the second half of life:

An extensive study in the U.S.A found that the most productive age in human life is between 60-70 years of age. The 2nd. most productive stage of the human being is from 70 to 80 years of age. The 3rd. most productive stage is from 50 to 60 years of age. The average age of NOBEL PRIZE winners is 62 years old. The average age of the presidents of prominent companies in the world is 63 years. The average age of the pastors of the 100 largest churches in the U.S.A. is 71. The average age of the Popes is 76 years. This tells us in a way that it has been determined, that the best years of your life are between 60 and 80 years. A study published in NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE found that at age 60, you reach the TOP of your potential and this continues into your 80s. Therefore, if you are between 60 -70 or 70-80 you are in the BEST and 2nd. level of your life.

SOURCE: N.Engl.J .Med. 70,389 (2018) ..

Our Long and Winding Road: Seeking our Path in the longevity revolution

 

Who defines you?

Do you ever wonder who you are now that the job is behind you and the kids have left home — or maybe moved back in?

Would you like to develop a mature spirituality that can nourish you as you grow older?

Do you ever get the feeling that you have never really escaped your family of origin, that Mom and Dad are still looking over your shoulder?

With whom do you need to be reconciled and how do you forgive yourself and others?

Is God in control or do you have the power to choose?

Who are the angels that hold you as you seek meaning and spiritual transformation?

Please join us for Our Long and Winding Road: Seeking our Path in the Longevity Revolution, where Rabbi Richard Address will explore these and other crucial questions we face in the second half of life!

Only a few spaces left so register soon! Registrations close the end of this week.

A wonderful bonus for this special day will be the very popular soloist, pianist, songwriter, and author Kelly Walker, who will be entertaining us with some of our favourite songs during our breaks!!!

9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Saturday, November 13th, Siloam United Church,

1240 Fanshawe Park Road East at McLean Drive, London ON, Lunch & Snacks included. Book Room Available.

PLEASE NOTE: YOU MUST SHOW ID AND PROOF OF DOUBLE VACINNATION or PROOF OF MEDICAL EXEMPTION.

Check Out a Recent Interview I Did on “YES TV” About Boomers and Spirituality!

In a recent broadcast on YES TV, Maggie John of “Context: Beyond the Headlines”, notes that “statistics from the Anglican Church of Canada show that by 2040, their pews will be empty.” This is not just an Anglican problem. It is a challenge facing all denominations and many faith communities across Canada, even our more evangelical siblings.

John reports that “only 11% of Canadians attend weekly religious services.” Of course the Covid-19 lockdowns we have experienced over the previous 18 months have not helped the situation, but they have encouraged new forms of worship, including the virtual or online worship experience. At Siloam, where I serve as Lead Minister, we have been back to in-person worship since mid-July, but we will always continue to offer a hybrid form of worship. In other words, we will continue in-person worship (for which folks will need to show ID and proof of double vaccination starting December 5th) and we will offer an online or virtual form of worship on Rogers TV.

But we must do more than offer a hybrid form of worship. We must also be prepared to meet people where they are and listen to the questions they are asking. The late Bishop John Spong once said that too often the Church asks questions that nobody is interested in, while ignoring important questions around identity, climate justice, race relations, mental health and human sexuality.

In this show John interviews several leading Canadians about the declining numbers in religious attendance and asks if people today are less interested in God? “Or are people yearning for relationships beyond the Sunday Service?”

She also interviews me about the growing trend in Baby Boomers seeking spirituality in retirement.  I argue that Boomers don’t simply want “to attend” church or “sit in pews”. Boomers want “TO DO” Church. Check out my interview with John in the October 20th edition of Context: “Beyond the Headlines – Gotta Have Faith!”

“Is God in Control? Or Do We Have the Power to Choose?” Join Rabbi Address at Siloam on Saturday, November 13th to Learn More!

There is less than a month to go before we welcome Rabbi Richard Address to Siloam to help us to navigate Our Long and Winding Road: Seeking our Place in the Longevity Revolution.

Recently I gave you a sneak preview of Rabbi Address’s first two presentations on Saturday, November 13th. His third presentation, which will take place after lunch that day, is just as fascinating as the first two and raises an important issue we all struggle with: “the theory of self”, how we understand ourselves and the meaning of our lives. Rabbi Address takes as his text Genesis 37:15: “A man found him (Joseph) wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

Is this not our question too? “What are you looking for?” What is that thing or being that, when found, will bring our lives what we need and which will bring us meaning, purpose, joy and even redemption?

Closely tied to this theme, says Address, is “the impact of randomness in life.” Again, this brings up questions that we all often ask ourselves: “Is God in control? Or do we have the power to choose?”

This is a question we have been exploring this Fall in our weekly Bible study at Siloam. It will also be part of the theme I address in worship at Siloam this coming Sunday, October 24th. It seems to me that too many of us harbour what I would call a bad theology or bad religion. Instead of seeing God as a loving and gracious God who allows God’s creatures the freedom to make decisions, there is still a tendency for people to regard the Divine as some kind of authoritarian, judgmental and omnipotent God, who predestines some to eternal life and others to eternal hell.

As you look back on your life, think about your image of God. Where has God been there for you throughout the decades? How has God come to you? Who are the angels (messengers)  in your life who have given you a glimpse of God’s eternal and unconditional love?

“Is God in control? Or do we have the power to choose?” Come and join us on Saturday, November 13th as we explore these crucial questions together!

A Poem for Thanksgiving

Today, being the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, I want to share a beautiful Thanksgiving poem written by one of our cousins south of the border, Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Wilcox was born in Wisconsin and lived from 1850 to 1919. This is just one of many beautiful poems she penned. As you ponder her words, reflect on the many blessings in your own life and give God thanks.

We Boomers have much for which to be thankful. Most of us enjoyed a privileged childhood and were given opportunities that were not available to previous generations. Many of us have had the enriching experiences of post-secondary education or have travelled to far away places. Materially speaking, we have achieved a standard of living higher than our parents.

But we have had our ups and downs too. Because we are such a large cohort, we have had to work incredibly hard in order to compete for good jobs. Sometimes this has cost us our marriages and our health, or led to estrangement from children and siblings. We have also witnessed horrible suffering around the world among those far less fortunate than ourselves, including our Indigenous relations and people of colour in our own backyard.

So maybe we need to be thankful for the fact that we have survived this long!

What are YOU thankful today? We all have some blessings in our lives and we can all BE A BLESSING to someone else. Read Wilcox’s poem below and consider where and how you are being called to practise the art of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving

We walk on starry fields of white
   And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
   We rarely offer praises.
We sigh for some supreme delight
   To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
   Of pleasures sweet and tender.

Our cares are bold and push their way
   Upon our thought and feeling.
They hand about us all the day,
   Our time from pleasure stealing.
So unobtrusive many a joy
   We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives,
   And conquers if we let it.

There’s not a day in all the year
   But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
   To brim the past’s wide measure.
But blessings are like friends, I hold,
   Who love and labor near us.
We ought to raise our notes of praise
   While living hearts can hear us.

Full many a blessing wears the guise
   Of worry or of trouble;
Far-seeing is the soul, and wise,
   Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength
   To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
   To gladden every morrow.

We ought to make the moments notes
   Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
   Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow
   As weeks and months pass o’er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
   A grand Thanksgiving chorus.

This poem is in the public domain.

Feeling Resentful Leads to Accelerated Aging — and What You Can Do About It

Tis the Season to be Thankful – at least in Canada! Our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday is next Monday, October 11th. This week people are decorating their front porches with bright orange pumpkins, wreaths of corn and other decorations like haystacks and scarecrows. Shopping for the turkey and baking pumpkin pies will also form part of the week’s rituals for many. Some this Fall will even be fortunate enough to be able to spend this holiday with family and close friends, while still of course practising safe social distancing. If the weather is clement, as it often is at Thanksgiving, the festivities will be held out of doors.

But thanks-giving should not just be something we celebrate once a year. Indeed, those who give thanks all year long are known to be healthier and happier. Kerry Howells has been researching gratitude for the past 25 years. Lately, however, her research on gratitude has taken a different direction. There is all kinds of research on the life-enhancing qualities of practising gratitude on a regular basis. But one of the questions she regularly gets from audiences is: “, “OK, I get gratitude, but how can I be grateful when I feel so resentful?”

It’s a good question, for who among us has not felt resentful, not once but many times in life? As Howells notes, we may feel resentful because one sibling seems to be favoured over another. Or the neighbour’s dog barks incessantly, keeping us awake at night. Or maybe a promotion goes to a colleague who does not seem nearly as qualified or as worthy as we are. What about the partner who does not do his or her share of the household chores? You fill in the blanks. We’ve all got something in our life about which we feel resentful.

Howells says that resentment is known as the “emotion of justice”. If we give up being resentful it may seem as though we are letting the other person off the hook.

In my experience, the opposite is true. When I am resentful toward another person it is I who usually suffer. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die! Resentment can be a kind of prison for the one who experiences this debilitating emotion.

In her recently released book, Untangling You: How Can I Be Grateful When I Feel So Resentful?, Howells notes: “The meaning of the word resentment comes from the Old French word resentir, which means ‘the re-experiencing of a strong feeling.’ Two distinguishing features of resentment are that it causes us to ruminate—that is, to go over and over the situation in our minds—and that it lingers over time. We are often initially so shocked by what has happened to us that the disappointment, frustration, or anger we feel becomes lodged and it’s difficult to move on.”

The problem with resentment is that it leads to compromised health conditions. Many who experience resentment, especially if they are constantly ruminating about it, have trouble sleeping, endure changes in cardiovascular activity and stress-related hormones, and even suffer from depression.

And here is something we Boomers in particular need to note: those of us who give in to feelings of resentment and unforgiveness often undergo an acceleration of the aging process that leads to a variety of diseases, such as increased instances of heart disease and cancer.

But if we can learn to harness the practice of gratitude, Howells says that we will find in it an amazing resource for staving off all the negative feelings associated with resentment. How to do this is something she explores in more detail in her book.

For now, I want to draw your attention to one of the talks that Rabbi Richard Address will be giving at Siloam on Saturday, November 13th on Jacob and Joseph. In this presentation Rabbi Address will discuss the question of reconciliation. With whom do we need to be reconciled with and how can we find and practise forgiveness in the second half of life? It is a theme we all need to re-visit many times in our lives, but it becomes even more crucial as we age.

This is why I hope you will join me for “Our Long and Winding Road: Seeking our Path in the Longevity Revolution” with Rabbi Richard Address.  There are still a few places left, but register soon because spaces are limited! Please note that for your safety we are requiring all participants to show proof of double vaccination and I.D. – or proof of medical exemption. A great day full of fascinating and helpful messages, a delicious lunch and snacks, and an excellent book room for you to peruse! I hope to see you there!

Do We Ever Escape Our Family of Origin?

Last week I talked a bit about the first presentation Rabbi Address will give on November 13th. Today I want to share one of the themes of his second presentation, which focuses on Jacob and Joseph.

In this talk, Rabbi Address asks: Do we ever escape our family of origin? Is Dad still alive? Is Mom still alive? I know that whenever I look in the mirror, I see my late mother’s face staring back at me and she seems very alive! She still influences traditional practices I keep and some of the decisions I make, both large and small.

For instance, I never, never throw out a piece of aluminum foil until it has been used multiple times and I am absolutely convinced I cannot get one more turn out of it. Then there are the pretty spring and autumn wreaths that people place on their front doors and which I love. But the only time I put a wreath on our front door is at Christmas, because that’s what Mom did. When she was young a wreath on the door at any other time of year meant that someone in that home had died. Even though we no longer associate front door wreaths with death, I feel that my mother would disapprove if I were to hang one on my door except at Christmas. So I simply enjoy other people’s front door wreaths. These of course is just small things, but I know that, at least unconsciously, my mother continues to influence much bigger decisions I make in life, normally for good, but not always. For example,  there have been prejudices that my parents held that I have needed to reexamine and then shed altogether.

The biggest question I have concerns what my parents would think of the life I have created. I often wonder whether they would be pleased with the big choices I have made. I would like to think that they would be happy with the way I turned out and the family that Richard and I have raised; but there are some days I am not really sure. Have I been a disappointment to them? They would have been thrilled, for example, if I had finished my PhD in Church History at the University of St. Andrews and taught at a university. That did not happen. So am I still trying to earn their approval and make them proud of me? Even in the second half of life I am not sure that we ever fully escape this desire to please our parents – especially when we have been blessed with good and loving parents.

Do we ever escape our family of origin? Do we want to? What do YOU think?

Who Are You and Who and What Defines You in the Second Half of Life?

Have you registered for Our Long and Winding Road: Seeking Our Path in the Longevity Revolution with Rabbi Richard Address? If not, you will want to do so very soon. Because we are trying to limit our capacity as per health unit directives, we have intentionally restricted the number of participants who can attend. For this reason only a few spaces still remain.  

Rabbi Address will have several very stimulating presentations on November 13th that speak directly to the issues that are most on our hearts. In his first address for the day, he will focus on a question that most of us have probably wrestled with all our lives but which now takes on a new poignancy in the second half of life, namely, who am I and who and what defines me?

In other words, who tells us who we are? Our car? Our house or how well appointed our condo is? Our bank account? The size of our retirement portfolio? How successful our kids are? The photos of grandchildren we carry around in our wallets or how many bogeys we got in last week’s golf tournament? Where we spend our winters? Our hobbies? The books we read or the sports we play? Our volunteer activities and what we give back to our community?

Whether we realise it or not, the question of our identity is a profoundly spiritual one. It invites us to reflect upon where we have been and where and how God is calling us to serve in this chapter of our lives, which, as Rabbi Address notes, is a time of spiritual transformation akin to that  revealed in the story of Jacob’s Ladder.

Moreover, what and who are the angels who hold us as we age? With what do we wrestle in our older years? And where and how do we receive God’s blessing?