A few days before the event someone in my congregation sent me a quote from the renowned English pastor of the 19th century Charles Haddon Spurgeon. She passed it on in reference to the care she had experienced from two of the older folk in the church. It is a lovely tribute to the character of those who have stayed the course for such a long time:
‘Aged and mellow saints have so sweet a savor of Christ in them that their conversation is sweetly refreshing to him who delights to hear of the glories of redeeming love. They have tried the anchor in the hour of storm, they have tested the armor in the day of battle, they have proved the shadow of the great rock in the burning noontide in the weary land; therefore do they talk of those things, and of Him who is all these unto them. We must dive into the same waters if we would bring up the same pearls.’
Beautiful words. But that said, it’s true not all saints age so well. While some mellow, others sour; some soften, others harden. I suspect the reality is the average older person will have days and seasons of both. On one day she can be a path maker who shows the way to a deeper experience of faith, and on the next, more like a cantankerous guardian of spiritual potholes that you have to work around to make progress. But aren’t we all like that?
I reckon I can make two mistakes in my response to the aged: I can ignore them, rendering them barely visible in the ‘strategic’ life of the church; or I can romanticise them, casting them in soft, mellow or heroic hues that bear little resemblance to reality. No doubt, on both counts I do them and the church a great disservice.
A few years back I found this clip from the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. I can’t vouch for its intended meaning, but it reminds me that older people in our communities are just as full of contradiction as the rest of us–as full of humanity, playfulness, struggle, pain, doubt, mischievousness and resilience as they ever were. They won’t be ignored and they refuse to be romanticised. ‘The aged’ is not some generic category of life but a reference to real people as alive and unique in their later years as they have ever been.