‘When the signs of age begin to mark my body
[and still more, when they touch my mind]:
when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off,
strikes from without or is born within me;
when the painful moment comes
in which I suddenly awaken to the fact
that I am ill or growing old;
and above all, that last moment when I feel
I am losing hold of myself
and am absolutely passive within the hands
of the great unknown forces that have formed me:
grant that I may understand that it is you
[provided that my faith is strong enough]
who is painfully parting the fibres of my being
in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance
and bear me away within yourself.’
Teilhard de Chardin
For the past two months (April and June 2014), Sr. Annie Lunney, a member of the Congregation The Poor Servants of the Mother of God, has been offering retreats and workshops on The Tapestry of Ageing to the religious congregations in South Africa. Annie is an occupational therapist with an MA in Spiritual Studies and in Clinical Counselling/Psychology. She became interested in retirement and ageing while working in the United States in the 1990s and she trained with Richard P. Johnson in his project of Retirement Success Profiles. Since then, Annie has used this training with Congregations in the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Sr. Annie Lunney, SMG
Two of the Mercy Sisters were able to participate in an “Over 70’s Retreat” facilitated by Annie and the rest of us attended her presentation organised by the PLT of the South African Province.
Annie’s presentation was accompanied by beautiful pictures of nature and art work, as well as inspiring quotations which gave life and reality to the topics which were: The task of Ageing, Transition – Loss and Change, On-going Call, Inner Journey, Loneliness – Solitude – Community, Prayer – Ministry, Finishing the Journey.
All that was presented evoked reflection and meditation, and was informative and challenging, but most of all, it encouraged the sisters to start sharing experiences, fears and thoughts. It got us talking!
Some of the Sisters who were privileged to attend the presentation generously shared their responses to the day:
I found the seminar absolutely relevant and helpful to my life experience of ageing.
The numerous questions – what is God’s desire for us, what loss are you grieving, where in your body do you feel it, remain with me and I plan to take to take a few days silent retreat to answer these questions for myself.
I also plan to consciously enter into my continuing growth process, I yearly draw up a growth plan for myself and this seminar has affirmed me in this practice.
Ericson’s stages of development are particularly helpful and relevant for me personally and also for me to understand those to whom I minister.
As a result of this seminar I am consciously working on integrity; coming to terms with my life and death; remembering reassessing, reconciling and reuniting with my past rather than falling into despair.
I was greatly inspired by the reflection on Julian of Norwich – summed up in two windows in the anchor hold – one looking into the heart of God, the other taking into her heart the pain of the people. This is the ongoing call I experience in myself in my mission.”
The cell of Julian of Norwich
“The afternoon of life must have significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage of life’s morning. (C. Jung)
I am growing in awareness that when I am feeling most empty and weak, I am most open to God’s grace.”
“Annie started off her talks with a question which held my attention, made me sit up and reflect: ‘What is God’s desire for us?’
Annie’s frequent posing of questions during her talks was very helpful and inspirational. They were very well phrased and relevant – ‘Am I content with the life I have lived? How do I live the Charism in my context?’
I found interesting the part where she said that today we talk about CHARISM rather than the MISSION.
Our Charism is lived out throughout our lives. How we live out this Charism changes over our lives.”
“What was very significant to me was an affirmation of my belief that memories are not carved in stone in our lives and bodies but can be revisited and re-programmed from where we are now, I feel that one of the reasons for despair and unhappiness in the later years is the conviction – probably resulting from ignorance – that there is no going back, that the damage is done and can never be undone.
That is why the idea of integrating every experience of one’s life into where you are now is of the utmost importance as we age.
It is important for us, as we grow older, and even in midlife, that we realise that our issues are written in our tissues and the less we take the time and find the help, to deal with them, the less comfortable and serene our later years will be. Perhaps all of this is connected with the advice to go consciously and deliberately into old age and not wait for it to catch us unawares and unprepared.”
“Ageing is the turning of the wheel … A naturally evolving process … the fulfillment of the life-cycle going with Jesus words: I have come so that you have life in its fullness …It’s a time when the mystery of life is revealed .. a time for continuing the process of growth. These and similar phrases keep popping up in my mind since our delightful workshop with Sr. Annie Lunney on the topic of ageing.
Have you any regrets about the past? Don’t worry, you still have time, things don’t have to stay the way they are, just finish the threads of the unfinished weaving!
This is the time to deepen our response to our beautiful charism, to live with people on a similar journey and share and honour each other’s journey, to bring the past, present and future together with gratitude, what a privilege to be alive!”
A story Annie told sums up her message so well.
Itzhak Perlman, one of the world’s greatest violinists, was confined to a wheel-chair all of his life. On one occasion, after performing to a large audience in New York, he chose to play as an encore a rather lengthy piece. While he was playing, one of the strings of his violin broke. To the astonishment of the audience, Perlman continued playing by transposing the notes from the broken string to the remaining strings – in perfect tune.
When he had finished playing, he asked for a microphone and said:
“This has been my vocation, my life-long mission: to make music out of what remains.”
Colleen Wilkinson rsm
South African Province