Driving along Landis Road to my mother’s funeral, I noticed the rich fields of recently planted corn and grasses. The young corn stood green and strong, and the grasses awaited their first cutting to be used for winter feed. A rich spring of new life and growth flanked the road as Mary Ann and I drove to the church. The juxtaposition of the emerging life and our destination reminded me of Hebrews 6:1-3.
At certain stages, we can’t wait to grow older. I imagine that every pre-teen anticipates the imagined magic of charging into the teen years. For other reasons, turning eighteen and twenty-one are wished for. But after those milestones, growing older is dreaded. We edge into the 30’s but turning forty is often seen much like a tolling of bells, and the decades after are viewed as a finality. Prufrock is so uncertain of these years that all he could muster is his questions of “Shall I…?” or “Do I dare…?”
The writer to the Hebrews tells us to leave the elementary teaching behind and “be borne onwards to full maturity.” (Barclay translation) But it seems to me that as a culture mostly claiming Christianity, we keep in the same elementary zones of our comfort. We keep plowing the same ground, not expanding our fields and perhaps killing what has sprouted beneath us. And I think our fear of changing and moving comes from our sense of control over the “same old thing” and “the way it’s always been done”, or “things ain’t like they used to be.” That last one is often offered as a reason not to change or as a whine about a new situation or way. You know what? Things are not as they used to be because those words reflect our memory which is at best suspect and likely tainted by our biases. When a suggestion is made to change the tables and chairs in a room, firm stances are taken in opposition. We resist any change to our comfort zones, thus stifling any growth to maturity or perfection in our Christianity. As Clarence Jordan writes, “Fear is the polio of the soul which prevents us from walking by faith.”
Years ago when I turned sixty, a friend told me that feeling the years of the decade would not come until I was sixty-two or three. She was correct. When I turned sixty-three, I felt the years of being in that decade of life. However, since my accident at fifty-five, I have learned to appreciate the years and what they represent contrary to our secular culture which teaches us to fear what is constantly around us—death. Today is May 15, 2019, a fine spring day on Lake Norman. I see birds flying to nesting boxes to feed the young. Each trip to the box by a parent represents a death which occurs so that a life may grow. It is all a cycle that we have come to fear because of our false sense of control. Our culture convinces us that creams and such will help forestall ageing so much that corporations flourish. Wrinkles and grey are marks of defeat, not marks of growing towards maturity and perfection as Christians and citizens.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us how to grow and mature as Christians. Robert Ruark in The Old Man and the Boy, a memoir full of secular wisdom, quotes his grandfather saying, “That’s why I like November. November is a man past fifty who reckons he’ll live to be seventy or so, which is old enough for anybody—which means he’ll make it through November and December, with a better-than-average chance of seeing New Year’s.”
As a seventy-two-year-old, I hope for a few more years like these I live now because I feel that I have come to appreciate living a life of obedience and finally, after years of lost living, I am on a right path. I now understand the words of Karle Wilson Baker who writes in Let Me Grow Lovely these words:
“Let me grow lovely, growing old—
So many fine things do:
Laces, and ivory, and gold,
And silks need not be new;
And there is healing in old trees,
Old streets a glamour hold;
Why may not I, as well as these,
Grow lovely, growing old?”
Prufrock feared his coming middle age. Yet, as Christians we need not allow fear to be a polio that prevents our walk. Wrinkles and grey are marks of age, medals of well lived lives in His service.