15 February 2012
Recently I was asked to write an article on ‘The two halves of life’ which, I was given to understand, was all about how we move from youthfulness/adulthood into age and wisdom.
As I pondered on this, it occurred to me that there weren’t two halves of life but, more accurately, we are all on a journey during which certain tendencies and characteristics are carried over from past experiences. As we age we respond to these from a deeper consciousness.
I would like to focus here on the religious/spiritual perspective of this experience and how our relationship with God changes as we deepen into age.
I remember, for instance, my childhood and early years when, in the freedom and exuberance of youth, I experienced God as my playmate – one of those special ‘mystery friends’ that some children create in their penchant for fantasy and intimacy.
God and I had a lot of fun. I shared with God, in whispered delight, all sorts of stories, secrets and dreams. Children do that sort of thing. It is a magic time. God is magic!
But as we move into young adulthood, the real world impinges more deeply onto our divine playground. God becomes a more serious business as we learn about commandments, catechism, rites, rituals, responsibilities and, especially, SIN!
We come to realise that we are, after all, not playmates of the divine and a benign and friendly God, but a bunch of sinners who must be about the business of behaving ourselves and obeying codes of conduct which will keep us in line and divine favour.
As we move into this second phase of our lives, God is father, Lord, judge and even king. We are subjects and followers. There are no more secrets and no more giggling in church. The ‘burden’ of discipleship is embraced as we move into adulthood.
An earnest journey
Now we are engaged in the serious business of picking up our cross and following Jesus. The journey is often intense – and so are we. We want to do our best, to be good and faithful servants, to make a difference in our world and we want to see results! So we set off with missionary zeal and fervour.
It is not long before we realise that the world does not seem to want to be saved or redeemed or changed. Everyone is busy taking care of themselves or simply struggling to survive. We begin to question God. We entertain doubts about our call and the life investment we have made as disciples of Christ.
We wonder (secretly) why God can’t do a better job. (We also may feel that we could do a better job if we were God…!)
In this space we are often hurt, lonely and bereft. But, being mature adults and realising that life is, after all, a huge challenge, we become stoic and brave. We must pray harder and trust more. Spiritual direction is very important at this stage.
But still people fight and hate one another. The gap between the rich and poor continues to widen. We lament the awful state of the world as we also experience violent weather patterns, droughts, famines, earthquakes, floods and climate change. Wars are endless. Now we are not so sure at all that we can change the world. We slow down and feel a bit of a failure.
As we age and grow into a deeper, darker phase of our journey, we begin to tread more gently and softly upon our ravaged earth.
We can no longer define God… nor our own roles for that matter. We now look with compassion on those we had so longed to change. Now begins the great letting go of our desire to leave our mark on the world and now is born a deep longing to simply be faithful and authentic to whatever it is we are called to do and be in our world – leaving the rest to God.
Here in this latter stage of our journey, the well battered and bruised ego loses its power. The true self, the child of God, comes into deeper consciousness. We come to understand that we are not here to save the world, but to love the world and to love it deeply. Now we begin to see that God lives at the heart of our chaos – God is in all and connected to all. We are to embrace our world and to walk upon it in compassion and trust only knowing that all is held in God’s embrace.
Full circle – all is well
We now embrace not so much the mission but the mystery. God is God and, in the well known words of St Julian of Norwich:
‘All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well’.
This is the Good News. And so we must celebrate, and we are, again, playmates of the divine, rejoicing in the mystery and coming full circle on our journey.
Edwina Gateley is dedicated to following the call of God in her life.
To date, this has led her to teaching in Africa, founding the Volunteer Missionary Movement, sojourning into the Sahara Desert, spending nine months in prayer in a caravan in the woods, befriending and ministering to street people and women in prostitution – ‘God’s little ones’, and preaching the Good News: God is with us.
Edwina is a poet, theologian, artist, writer, lay minister, modern-day mystic and prophet and a single mother.
She currently gives talks, conferences and retreats in the US, Canada, Britain and Ireland while continuing to reach out to women in recovery from drugs and prostitution.
Edwina Gateley will be speaking and leading a retreat in Christchurch in March (2012).