Being an Elder

Walking through the Spirit campusThe 3rd Chapter of Life work focuses on “growing whole, not old.”

It’s a matter of perspective and asking, what is it that I bring to the community that I couldn’t do earlier? And more importantly, who am I now that I wasn’t when I was younger?

The 3rd Chapter of Life is the time that we can reflect on the hills and valleys of life and offer wisdom that only comes with hands on experience.

Does not Wisdom call, And does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, At the crossroads she takes her stand; Beside the gates in front of town, At the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O People, I call, And my cry is to all that live…”  
– Proverbs 8:1-4

In their short but profound book, Claiming Your Place at the Fire, Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro (2004), call our attention to a practice from a number of traditions, claiming the role of an elder … a sage.

“I’m at the end of who I was.  But I’m at the beginning of who I might become.  That’s exciting to me.”

“In elderhood you’re more a human being than a human doing.  Elderhood is just another calling.”

“New elders are people who use the second half of life as an empty canvas, a blank page, a hunk of clay to be crafted on purpose.”

Leider and Shapiro frame their wisdom on the image of a campfire that has 4 flames, each with its own question and which dance together –

  • The flame of identity – who am I?  It is the flame of our life’s stories. Recalling our story is the means by which we rediscover and reinvent ourselves in the second half of life.  New elders harvest and transfer the wisdom of the past into the present. Elders teach by story.  But it isn’t simply recalling stories about the “good old days.”  Rather, it is an ability to touch the lives and lived experience of others through their own experiences in a manner that brings it alive in the present, through the past.
  • Flame of community. – where do I belong?  It is the flame of our place.  Refinding our place in the world is the means by which we embrace a sense of intimacy for the 2nd half of life. Powerful sense of place .. where they come from, where they are, and where they are going.
  • Flame of Passion – what do I care about?  Renewing our life’s calling is the means by which we stay connected to the world and mentor those who will see to things after we are gone.  Apply gifts in support of younger people and the community at large.
  • Flame of Meaning – why am I here?  This is the flame that illuminates our life’s purpose.  Reclaiming our purpose is the means by which we find creative expression and make a difference in the lives of those around us.  Elders know why they get up in the morning.

Research shows that people’s number one deadly fear is the fear of “having lived a meaningless life”.  The Spirit in the Desert programs will help you find meaning and purpose in your 3rd Chapter of Life … including being an Elder.