The New Elder Isn't Elderly
Recently I was elected to the Board of Directors of the area agency on aging in Pima County, Arizona. As I introduced myself, I said I was conducting a whisper campaign that the word "elderly" is a dirty word. Everyone laughed. To me, it is not funny.
"Elderly" is an old way of thinking. To many older adults, getting older and becoming elderly are not the same. Call us "older adults" (or doubtfully, "seniors"), but don’t call us elderly. Those identifiers contribute to the continuation of ageism in our society.
So, who are these new "elders" and how can faith communities meet their needs in this "spiritual eldering"? The concept of "spiritual eldering," or mentoring, is introduced in Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s book From Ageing to Sage-ing, a Profound New Vision of Growing Older. When Schachter-Shalomi got the inspiration for the book, he noticed a lack of studies on older adults, while a great number of childhood and adulthood studies already existed. In his book he suggests that growing older is not a time of diminishment and disengagement, but rather a time of self-development and growth, as well as a way of deepening the understanding of conscious aging.
So then began another whisper campaign, a call to assist older adults in faith communities in becoming elders…in learning to harvest their lives, which includes reviewing their lives; repairing their lives; facing their own mortality; and becoming mentors, both to each other and to future generations.
I suggest that one space for spiritual eldering exists in the wisdom journey in an Elder Circle, which is a safe, respectful space to deal with the purpose and meaning of life…to look at end of life issues and to face up to one’s mortality.
So what is an Elder Circle and how does it work? Elder Circles are both an old and a new way for adults and youth of the tribe to listen. Visit www.oureldersvoice.com and click on "Elder Circles" to read more about the power of circles, the structure, process, topics and resources. Training and phone consultations are available. Hear the whisper? Elder Circles are the way to go!
"This journey does more than restore the elder to a position of honor and dignity based on age and long life experience," says Schachter-Shalomi in his book. "It envisions the elder as a messenger of wisdom…"
Del Jones is Founder of Elder Circles Network for COPA, Culture of Peace Alliance in Tucson, Arizona. She is also an Associate member of Sage-ing Guild. She has worked in the Religious Education field for the denomination locally, statewide, and nationally. Del was on staff at Greater Cleveland Council of Churches as Assistant Director of Inner City Protestant Parish. She was also the founding director of Wellness Council of Tucson and has participated in many JustPeace endeavors. She may be reached at [email protected] or at 520-298-6542.