A new year provides an opportunity for a renewed focus on spiritual practices. New Year resolutions have never attracted my attention. Maybe this is because when we make them in January, we begin with gusto only to quit our resolve by mid-February. Never do they seem to continue past March. And yet, there is something about the start of a new year as an opportunity to mark a new beginning by trying some new practice or observe some new attitude that might just improve our health, our relationships and our world.
Epiphany: Spiritual Practices of the Magi
There is another holiday here at the beginning of January that also invites us to observe different rituals and behaviors: Epiphany. The observance of the three magi finally arriving to see the Christ-child occurs 12 days after Christmas, although in all likelihood, the entourage of the three travelers may not have arrived until the infant had reached toddler-hood. We are told they had traveled by starlight from the east bearing gifts that seemed so impractical for a newborn, and yet so appropriate to bring to a king. For many around the world, this is the day, not Dec. 25, when we exchange presents with loved ones. Observing creation, just as the magi saw and followed the star, the journey into unknown territory and foreign lands and the giving of gifts, these are all pieces of the spiritual practices that the observance of Epiphany has given to the church.
Lent: Spiritual Practices of the Church
Following the day of Epiphany, Jan. 6, the Christian church begins a season of Epiphany that leads to the beginning of Lent and a shift toward preparations for Easter. Maybe the new year resolutions don’t last long into the year because just as we add some new thing to our daily routines, we come to Lent when we are most often encouraged to “give something up.” This denial of something that we enjoy is a way to prepare ourselves to receive the good news of the Easter resurrection.
In this new year, both of these liturgical seasons last about six weeks. And so, we decided to use this combination of seasons at the beginning of a new calendar year to reflect on some Spiritual Practices as a way to explore aging.
Spiritual Practices in the Midst of Aging
The Rev. Nancy Gordon retired last year as the director of the California Lutheran Homes Center for Spirituality in Aging. Prior to this ministry setting, she had served as the director of growth opportunities at Friendship Village of Schaumburg, Illinois, which included her role as chaplain. She has written about her list of spiritual practices for aging online and in the chapter “Touching Spirits” found in “The Essential Spirit: Providing Wholistic Services to and with Older Adults” edited by Rev. Don Koepke:
- Practice Breathing
- Practice Gratitude
- Practice Wonder
- Practice Creativity
- Practice Kindness
- Practice Releasing
- Practice Connecting
- Practice Resting
- Practice Making Music
- Practice Being Yourself
So, for the next weeks, our blogs will reflect on each of these practices. The reflections will explore one dimension of each on the list, recognizing that Nancy would work with one of the “practices” and plan for a month’s worth of programming to explore the many layers of each one. They will also not appear in the order in which Nancy listed them, but per the order in which the AbundantAging blog writers will address them — in other words, in no particular order other than meeting our own schedules.
We are also going to be adding Exercise as Spiritual Practice. This is added in part because we need to pay more attention to the spiritual connection with our physical lives. Also, because, increasingly, the research is indicating that physical activity is vitally important to our overall health and well-being — including our spiritual well-being.
As you begin this new year, instead of resolving to adhere to one new thing or behavior, we are inviting you to explore this smorgasbord of practices as a way to expand your spiritual repertoire and to explore how it is that your own aging process is inviting you into a new and growing understanding of your relationships with the sacred. You may in the end decide to give up one habit or attitude, resolve to follow a different route or come to realize that you have a gift to share that previously seemed impractical or too extravagant. Don’t worry about what will happen, so much as to open yourself to explore the opportunities to consider new connections and to practice seeing old behaviors as new gifts of insight with the sacred.