The Need for Solitude

Do you know about the Ontario Library Associations Evergreen List?  Each year the OLA nominates a number of books in Canadian fiction and non-fiction in an effort to encourage people to explore Canadian literature and discover a variety of talented Canadian authors.

One book from the 2018 list that I particularly enjoyed is Solitude. A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris. I have always known that the secret to healthy aging is community, so was rather intrigued to discover this book on the importance of solitude. However, true solitude is not about being anti-social. According to Harris, we human beings need to have alone time in order to thrive. And if we can spend that time in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of every day urban life, so much the better! Solitude, he says, has many uses. Time alone can help us to birth new ideas and a deeper understanding of the self.

And get this! Solitude can lead to closeness with others. Harris refers to the work of Eric Klinenberg, Going Solo. Klinenberg asserts “that our ability to be happily alone is actually a sign of strong social ties, not a lack thereof. He notes, for example, that the countries with the highest rates of solo living — Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark — are all countries famed for their communal support.” (quoted in Harris, p. 39)

It would seem that we all need to find the balance between being with others and being alone in order to live a happy life. Finding that balance is another important key to healthy living and healthy aging. It is a worthy goal to which to aspire in this still very New Year.



Be Your Best in 2019!

Happy New Year! Here we are, only three days into 2019! How are you doing with those New Year’s resolutions? If you haven’t made any yet, there’s still time!

Here’s one that came to me from Next Avenue, a wonderful online newsletter you may wish to subscribe to this year. As a way of keeping our minds sharp — and having some fun along the way — why not try to learn to play a musical instrument or take an art class?  Engaging in the arts is one of the best ways to keep your mind agile and make new friends while cultivating your talents.

My personal choice is an art class. All my life I have loved to draw and paint, but I have never really had the time. This year I plan to make time for a 2 1/2-hour class at Art Adventures in London. It doesn’t matter that the rest of the group has far more talent than me. The instructor welcomes people of all abilities and provides all the materials. So I just need to show up! I call it my form of “meditation”. Once I get engrossed in my art work, I forget about all my worries and concerns. For me, it is a great way to explore my inner me and have some fun doing it.

Why not give it a try? Would love to hear how you plan to cultivate your creative spirit this year!

The Coming New Year Can Bring Freedom and Liberation if we let it!

It’s been a while since I posted anything, but I’m back! The weeks after Canadian Boomerfest found me busy catching up on visitation on the pastoral charge and getting ready for Advent and Christmas. Along the way there was some time for fun and a much needed break in late October, when Richard and I headed to Italy for ten days. There we enjoyed the historic sites of the eternal city of Rome, toured the ancient ruins of Pompeii, and visited lovely Ortona on the Adriatic, where my father fought in World War II. Rounding out our trip was a visit to beautiful Florence and the scenic hills of Tuscany.

One of our favourite places was the Academia Gallery in Florence, where Michelangelo’s famous statue of David is housed. On the way into that gallery, we were shown his “Four Slaves or Prisoners”. These are some of his unfinished works. When you look at them, they seem to be writhing and struggling to burst out of the stone. Michelangelo is famous for saying that he worked to liberate the forms imprisoned in the marble. He saw his job as simply removing what was extraneous.

I sometimes think that this is our task in the second half of life: to remove everything that is extraneous to our lives. For this reason, whenever I lead groups on second half of life spirituality, I often ask people to think about one thing that they would let go of in this period of life, and one thing that they would wish to keep. In Ephesians 2:10, the writer says, “You are God’s masterpiece.”

Well, Michelangelo laboured for days on end without sleep to free his sculptures from their stone prisons. And it’s going to take us some time to work with God at chiseling away those things that really hold us captive and prevent us from becoming the full human beings God calls us to be.  For a lot of us, and for much of our lives, we had to spend a lot of time building a home or a career, with endless meetings and activities, and now there comes the freedom to chip away the excess or all the stuff that weighs us down or gets in the way of our true calling.

As we approach the coming New Year, I invite you to think about those things you would like to let go of in the second half of your life, as well as those things you want to keep. I think you will find it a liberating exercise, one that frees you to become the person God calls you to be. May God bless you in the coming New Year and always!


One Week Later — Canadian Boomerfest 2018: We Rocked!

After months of planning and many discussions over numerous meetings, we did it! Thanks to the wonderful support of our sponsors, and the countless volunteer hours of so many people, as well as the many who came and joined in on the fun and learning, we are happy to report that Canadian Boomerfest was a huge success. Wonderfully inspiring presenters gave us multiple lenses into this rich but complex field of Boomers and Spirituality. The meals and snacks were fabulous, the exercise breaks and Boomer trivia quizzes were lots of fun, the book room introduced us to some fascinating new studies, and the workshops were engaging. We exercised our minds and our bodies, and still found time to enjoy a glass of wine and dance to the music of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s by Tom Cat Prowl.

A man who has organized numerous conferences and is a specialist in aging and spirituality was just one of among many who wrote to congratulate us on the event: “I want you to know that this was the single best conference I have experienced hosted at a church, from so many standpoints. You brought in some amazing speakers, it ran so efficiently, it was an incredible amount of fun, folks who did not already know each other got to make connections which will benefit them, and it changed a lot of people’s understanding of the potential for Boomer ministry, plus inspired and excited them.”

The biggest affirmation was from the many who came up to us at the end of the two-and-a-half-day conference and asked eagerly, “When are you doing it again?!”

Special thanks to everyone who made this such a meaningful and enjoyable event!

Sheila Macgregor, Convener                          Kerry Stover, Co-Convener


Kaye Appleby                                                  Catherine Glover

Mike Ashton                                                    David Knoppert

Linda Badke                                                     Diane Knoppert

Steven Britton                                                 Camillia LaRouche

Stu Cunningham                                             Richard Macgregor

David Dillon                                                     Lynn McClary

Mary Dillon                                                     Margaret Smith

Judi Emery                                                      Ric Graham

Heather Vosper




Only two more days until the start of Canadian Boomerfest!

We are getting so excited about the launch of Canadian Boomerfest, happening right here in London, Ontario, starting this coming Wednesday evening! We are now at full capacity, but hope that those of you who have not been able to make it can still follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

Will have more to share next week. For now, here are a few very short essays or commentaries on Boomers and Spirituality, as well as a list of books that will help you learn more on this important subject.

Boomers have much to share with the younger generations and, by being generous with them, they can actually prolong their lives and find better health and greater happiness!

This coming weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving. Thankful hearts are generous hearts; but maybe they are also healthier hearts. Philippe Tobler, associate professor of neuro-economics and social neuroscience at the University of Zurich, says that generosity makes us healthier.

According to Tobler, studies have shown that older people who are generous tend to feel better and enjoy better health. Other research indicates that spending money on others may actually lower blood pressure and be just as effective as medication or exercise. In an article by Time journalist Amanda Macmillan, Tobler is quoted as saying that “there is a positive association between helping others and life expectancy.” If you practise the art of generosity, there is less likelihood you will suffer from a lot of stress.

For Boomers and older adults, who have much wisdom and experience to share, this is good news. What will you share this coming Thanksgiving? More importantly, how can you build a spirit of generosity into your everyday living and make generosity part of your normal spiritual practice in the future? After all, it may just save your life!


Preserving Dignity at Every Stage of Life: Grandfather and the Wooden Bowl

I am sure you have heard different variations of the following story. I share it here because it carries such a powerful message:

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.

The family ate together at the table. But the old man’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his fork onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, the milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated and decided to relegate him to another smaller table in the corner, so that they would not have to put up with the spilled milk. Because the grandfather often dropped a dish or two, they served his food in a wooden bowl.

One day the father noticed the little son playing with wooden scraps on the floor. When he asked him what he was doing, he replied simply: “Oh, I’m making a little bowl for you and Mommy so that you will have something to eat from when you get old and need to sit in the corner.”

Immediately the man and his wife realised how badly they had treated Grandfather. With tears of shame streaming down their faces, they escorted Grandpa back to the dinner table to eat with the rest of the family. For the remainder of his days, Grandfather ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband or wife seemed to care any longer when a glass was dropped, milk spilled, or a tablecloth was soiled. 

In the coming ten or twenty years more people will be involved in elder care than in childcare. How will you care for your elderly loved ones?

Rabbi Richard Address, who is one of our keynote speakers at Canadian Boomerfestreminds us that we must always respect the dignity of the individual, no matter what his or her stage of life. In his book, Seekers of Meaning. Baby Boomers, Judaism, and the Pursuit of Healthy Aginghe quotes the Palestinian Talmud. According to this, the person who tells his or her elderly parents “just to relax and enjoy life and I’ll take care of you”, has far less respect for their aged parents than the one who helps to create a safe environment in which the elderly parents can continue to work and contribute to the family’s well-being. In this way the dignity of the elders is preserved.

Perhaps a better variation of our story about the elderly grandfather and the wooden bowl would include not only a place at the dinner table for Grandpa, but also a nice workbench where he could continue to be creatively involved and contributing to family life.

In Memory of Grandma Shirley: Grandparenting as Vocation

This past Sunday some of my friends and neighbours celebrated Grandparents’ Day. Yes, there is such a thing as Grandparents’ Day! it’s a day on which we celebrate and honour the special people we call Grandma and Grampa OR Nana and Poppa OR Gran and Grandad OR Oma and Opa OR whatever special names we call them. Usually this in an older person, normally but not always the parent of our parent.

For example, our children became very attached to a very dear older friend in our first congregation, whom they called Grandma Shirley. She was a wonderful grandmother to them, and celebrated all their birthdays and Christmas celebrations and graduations and never missed an opportunity share her love for them. She looked after them when they were small and watched them grow up with joy. After my own mother died in 1996, her devotion to them became especially important, even to my husband, whose own parents lived across the ocean in Scotland and could not often visit. When Grandma Shirley died four years ago this month, we were all heartbroken.

Today a wonderful book arrived in the mail: The Spirituality of Grandparenting by  Ralph Milton with Beverley Milton. I have just started to read it, but so far I am entranced! And I don’t even have grandchildren! A few ideas from the Miltons stand out even from the first pages:

— Grandparenting is a vocation, a calling: the grandparent’s spiritual vocation is to delight in one’s grandchildren.

— Grandparents come in a variety of  shapes and sizes and many styles and kinds, but they have one thing in common: a relationship between older adults and children.

— Grandparenting can be great fun and deeply rewarding; but it isn’t always a happy relationship and it doesn’t fulfill all of a grandparent’s needs or all of the grandchild’s needs!

— The spirituality of grandparenting is more than a nice warm feeling and more than being able to share your religious beliefs; it’s more about praying for or with your grandchildren.

— Spiritual grandparenting is about learning the art of trust from our grandchildren, a lot like the trust we need to have in God.

I am looking forward to reading more about the spirituality of grandparenting in this wonderful book. Why don’t you order your copy too and join me on the journey? Even if, like me, you do not have grandchildren, you can learn a lot about spirituality in the second half of life from this beautiful testament to grandparenting. And who knows, maybe God is calling you to be a surrogate grandparent to someone on your street or in your faith community who is hungering for the wise, warm, unconditionally loving care of a grandparent — just like our kids’ adopted Grandma Shirley!





Sweet and Sour: Newly Retired Teachers Face both Freedom and Joy, as well as Lack of Purpose and Belonging as School Starts Back Without Them Tuesday….

Two of my friends have recently retired from lengthy careers as teachers.  This will be their first Labour Day in years that they won’t have think about getting themselves psyched up for the start of another school year. No more anxious moments the night before Day One, wondering what the new classes will be like or whether this year’s batch of students will be keen to learn or not.

While there will be no “back to school jitters” for them, I expect they will have mixed feelings tomorrow when those big yellow school buses drive by their homes and they know that they won’t be at the school to welcome all those excited kids off the bus. After all, they loved their jobs and were good teachers. “It’s like sweet and sour,” says one teacher who taught for 34 years before retiring from a career he loved. There’s the freedom that comes from not having to get up early every morning and be on top of your game, five days a week; not to mention the freedom from after school coaching or late night prepping and weekend marking.

On the other hand, there is the sense that one no longer belongs anywhere, or worse, there may be a real void in one’s life, a lack of purpose, or deep feelings of emptiness, at least for a while until new opportunities present themselves and a new routine develops. Retirement specialists often say that this is normal. Many even recommend that newly retired people should take a “gap” year. Don’t commit to anything major for a year. Too often people jump into an endless string of busy activities, finding themselves with less free time than they had when they were working and with no clear sense of how they want to live or what they want to do. Best, the consultants say, to give yourselves some time and space to discern where and how God is calling you to serve in the world.

Sounds like a good idea to me! What do you think? If you are a newly retired teacher and this is your first Labour Day weekend when you have not had to think about getting orgnanised for a new teaching year, I would love to hear from you! How are you feeling this week as the kids all head back to school? And if this is your second, third or even fourth year you have not had to head back to the classroom, please let me know how things have gone for you and how you find meaning outside the classroom today.

As for me, I am just about to pack my lunch, lay my clothes out, and try to get a good night’s sleep before heading back to the office tomorrow! I expect I will follow a number of school buses with excited schoolchildren on my way.