The joy of being still


7 Jun 2021

There is much we can learn from the elderly who know how to listen well and quietly practise their faith. 

One of the prayer intentions of recent years, for the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, was for the elderly ‘that sustained by families and Christian communities, they may apply their wisdom and experience to spreading the faith and forming the new generations.’

There’s quite a lot in there that we could unpack. It includes an implication that they be valued by their communities, which includes, but is not limited to their own family, such that they may be considered to have something worth passing on to younger people. But the very structures of how we live, eat, clothe, and love are so coloured by a turbo-capitalist need for constant novelty that it’s very hard to imagine how the wisdom of the elderly can be made room for in that insatiable swirl.

In what Pope Francis has called more than once ‘a throw away culture’ like ours, it can be a scary place for the vulnerable to be, which includes the elderly. And nothing quite captures the speed of that novelty than the delights of the TikTok algorithm. If you’ve have felt the addictive force of its AI cleverness then you’ll know it’s the latest example of the sort of constant flux, and distraction from matters of substance, that now bombards young people from the moment they wake to the moment they fall asleep with their phone nestled in the crease of their neck.

With a business model so brazenly based on addiction, these social media platforms can work effectively at blocking any spiritual life which includes receiving it from others.

Perhaps the first thing the elderly can offer the young is a story of a time when we had time; a time when stillness wasn’t something you had to schedule; a time when not ‘being busy’ all the time wasn’t considered one of the final remaining perversions for an adult, or a child; and a time when faith in Jesus Christ and his Church was an anchor in a world of flux. 

In the face of indifference and marginalisation, perhaps all that is left for the elderly, and all of us really, is to take Saint Francis of Assisi’s advice: preach often, and if necessary, use words.

The presence of an elder who can be still, and who can actively listen to others without looking at their phone every minute, and who quietly practises their faith through thick and thin, is a sign of hope and one of the few true teachers we have left.

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