Old age is not for sissies, as my late mother always said. Having recently observed my 60th birthday, each aching joint and “senior moment” convince me she was right. Four decades of trotting the globe, badgering bureaucrats, chasing disasters and banging out news on deadline have given me a greater appreciation for a quip from the film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark:”
Marian: You’re not the man I knew 10 years ago.
Indiana Jones: It’s not the years, honey; it’s the mileage.
How much “mileage” do we put upon one another? Much as we’re focusing in this series on humans’ relationship with the natural world, there’s also a need to think about our relationships with one another as the embodiment of creation. Just as we’re disconnected from the natural world about us, we’re also disconnected from ourselves. We abuse our bodies with drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation, poor diets and lack of exercise. And yet our bodies faithfully carry us on until they can carry us no longer because of the “mileage” we’ve put on them.
Because of my recent efforts to improve my health through exercise, I’ve become more in harmony with my own body. I’m not alone in struggling to accept my body as it is, even as it starts showing more signs of aging. Studies have shown that women have more body issues than men, probably because unrealistic sexualized images of women are used to market products in our commodified consumer culture. And while I realize that the goal is to sell more soap, I have to commend the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty for making an effort to show real women in their ads and to celebrate their natural beauty.
The disharmony we feel within ourselves, this unacknowledged sense of disembodiment, lies behind of the harm we cause the natural world. An elemental spiritual truth says that pain not transformed will be transmitted. As a spiritual director, I see this unreconciled pain transmitted all around every day, from the harried single mother who slaps her child in the store to the heedless people who throw their trash out car windows to sully the earth. The mother, the child, the people, the earth, are all linked, yet we seem unable to see beyond ourselves to the connections that bind us all together.
About five years ago, popular emerging church leader and author Brian McLaren wrote a book called “Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope.” In the book McLaren aptly described crises in prosperity, equity, security and spirituality that he said could wreck global society. Within a year of the book’s publication, the Wall Street crash of 2008 occurred; millions of people are still out of work today from its aftermath. The equity gap between the world’s rich and poor is widening, even in the heretofore-prosperous United States. Issues of security – not just America’s overwhelming military power, but domestic terrorism and gun violence – have us trembling in our own homes.
At the time that I interviewed McLaren about his book, the spirituality crisis captured my imagination most. In essence, the author noted that all the issues that captured churches’ attention, especially evangelical churches, were nowhere near what concerned their members. Many believers wanted to do more to alleviate hunger, poverty, violence and environmental crisis, but church leaders kept the focus on such divisive issues as abortion and homosexuality. Rank-and-file believers sensed God calling them to build webs of greater harmony; religious leaders seemed determined to stand in the way of such efforts.
As I embark upon elderhood, I find myself more in harmony with myself than in previous seasons, and much more in harmony with God through deepened spiritual practice. Like John Philip Newell’s story of balancing at the “equipoise” of sunset and moonrise, I cherish my embodiment in God’s world. Yet the more my awareness roots itself in the harmony of the universe, the less I support the social-political-economic institutions that continue to harm the cosmos.
It’s becoming ever clearer that spiritual harmony doesn’t mean blissful inaction, but calls us instead to a determined defense of creation.
Cynthia B. Astle of Dallas, TX, is a certified spiritual director and veteran religion journalist who blogs at Watermarked.com