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A newsletter from the
California Lutheran Homes and Sunny View
Centers for Spirituality and Aging
"Bring Stones"
At the end of the novel Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr, the narrator says, "Bring stones."  She is leaving the remote town in Mexico where she and her husband have lived as the only Anglos for many years.  They came to revive a family-owned copper mine, but that endeavor was halted when her husband died of cancer.  In their years of living in Mexico she had noted piles of stones along highways and was told that they were memorial stones for people who had died in accidents.  As she's leaving her home for the last time, she realizes the importance of everything that occurred there and the loss that needed to be marked and her thought was, "Bring stones."

One reviewer of the book on Amazon writes, "I found myself reliving the accidents of my life, and asking myself over and over to bring stones." We sometimes do need to stop and reflect and bring stones to mark the losses we have faced.  But this is more than an individual task of recognition; it is a communal one.  The stone piles along the highway were created by community members to mourn the death of someone they knew and loved and missed.

Those of us who work with older adults that we've only known as older adults are usually totally unaware of the "accidents" of their lives for which they and others may need to bring stones.  And there are few places where their stories can be shared and these losses appropriately marked.  In addition there are few places where moments of high achievement and joy can be shared--without being seen as bragging.  But we are truly known only when our deepest losses and our greatest joys can be spoken of and acknowledged as the important pieces of our life that they are. 

Part of accompanying persons on the spiritual journey of aging, seems to me, to be about providing places for the telling of stories that call for lament and remembering stories that call for celebration.  I think without places for lament, the losses of a long-lived life can turn into persistent complaint.  And the good in life goes unnoticed.  And without meaningful celebration and affirmation, it is difficult to harvest the fruits of those achievements and joys into energy for living and meeting remaining challenges.

It is too easy in older adult communities and in congregations to look toward activities that will keep older adults happy and busy.  I would encourage us to look towards building programs and relationships that allow for reciprocal knowing and being known, places where we can "bring stones" of recognition for both joy and sorrow in our care for one another.  
Resources for Bringing Stones
Here's a link to a process of life review that I've called "Landmarks and Landmines."  It can be a fruitful way to share important life events in a group or as an individual reflection.

The Lumunos workbook for elders, Looking Back and Giving Forward: Finding Common Ground for Positive Aging provides a framework for a small group of elders to look back at their life in order to identify strengths and passions for giving forward.  This can be purchased here in a community edition and a faith-based edition.
For faith communities wanting to explore the biblical tradition of lament, I would recommend Psalmist's Cry, a five part DVD and workbook for small group study and interaction.  Learn more about it here.  
Planning is well under way.  Save these dates!

More information will follow about this important event hosted by
CLH Center for Spirituality and Aging!  Plan now to attend!

Resources for Ministry and Learning
Tips for Retirement
Maybe it's my age, but I've been having more and more conversations lately with friends and colleagues who have retired, are retiring or at least thinking about retiring.  I've recently become aware of a series of three books by Ed Zinkiewicz:
  • Retire to Play and Purpose:  How to have an amazing time going forward
  • Retire to Great Friendships:  How to grow your network of friends and support
  • Retire to a Better You:  How to remain able for the rest of your life.
I like the author's take on the present and the future by his emphasis on "retiring to" rather than "retiring from." Taken together these books tackle the spiritual issues of aging:  meaning and purpose, connectedness, and living in a physical, sometimes declining, body.  They offer tips on what not to do and what to do as you begin retirement, giving practical pointers on issues to tackle at the beginning, including dealing with finances, determining what is important to you and how to craft a schedule that helps you live according to your goals.  All of these books are based on setting SMART goals.  Smart goals contain 1) Specific objectives, and 2) are Measurable,  3) Attainable, 4) Relevant and 5) Time-bound.  The author, retired from a career in business management and software development, has started Retirement-U to offer training and resources for the nearly or newly retired.  The books are available on Amazon, both in paperback and as e-books (and right now the e-books are free).  You can see detailed descriptions of each on the author's website.  I recommend them, particularly for those who are in the floundering stage of retirement!

Resources for Thinking about Alzheimer's Disease 
There are a multiplicity of articles and resources about Alzheimer's disease appearing almost daily on the web.  Here are some that I think are particularly noteworthy.

Journal Issues Focused on Aging

Reflections, a journal from Yale Divinity School seeks to bring theological insight to a contemporary social, political or religious question.  The theme for the Fall 2013, issue is "Test of Time: The Art of Aging" and includes essays, personal reflections, poetry, prayers, and interviews.  I particularly enjoyed, "Counting the Years with Desert Fathers and Mothers" by Roberta Bondi; "The Journey of Life: An Interview with Thomas Cole," which ended with the sentence, "We need to undertake the impossible work of linking physical decline and spiritual growth."; and "Facing Finitude" by Teresa Berger.  All the articles in this issue can be found on-line here.  


CONVERsations: a Forum for Authentic Transformation, is a twice a year journal published by Richmont Graduate University that "provides spiritual accompaniment and honest dialogue for those who long for radical transformation in Christ." Their most recent issue, "Wisdom & Aging" is a rich resource for those whose aging occurs in the Christian tradition.  Chock full of interviews, poetry, articles on spiritual companionship, spiritual practices and exercises this could serve as a fruitful starting point for individual and group reflection.  Print and downloadable issues are available here

Parting Thoughts
Watch for our next newsletter where we will have details of upcoming October workshops with Judith Kate Friedman of Song Writing Works in Anaheim and Cupertino.  In the spring of 2015 we will be celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the CLH Center for Spirituality and Aging with a workshop with Wendy Lustbader and a colloquium on Congregational Ministry.  As part of that celebration we will also note the publication of The Essential Spirit, edited by Donald Koepke, director emeritus of the Center.  And of course the 6th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality will take place in Los Angeles, October 4-7, 2015.  Mark those dates on your calendar as this is an opportunity you won't want to miss.

I would love to hear from you about what you're thinking about aging and spirituality these days.  Let me know if any of these resources or articles in this issue strike a chord.  Share resources that you're using as well.  Forward this newsletter to others you think might like it and invite them to join our tribe.  And please continue to "like" the Center on Facebook and follow us on Twitter using the links below.

Many, many blessings!

Nancy Gordon, Director
California Lutheran Homes and Sunny View Centers for Spirituality and Aging


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Nancy Gordon, Director
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