THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGES OF THE SECOND HALF OF LIFE: THE COMPLEX TASK OF GROWING UP!
CoR Members’ Conference 26th October 2022
Sr Una Agnew SSL
Bright and early, Srs Susan, Alice, Carol and Anne set off up the motorway, lured not only by the thought of an inspiring talk from Sr Una Agnew SSL on the challenge of spiritual maturity, but also by the promise of a hot breakfast and lunch at the CoR conference venue, the Claretian Oasis in West London. We were not disappointed.
Sr Una taught for many years at the Milltown Institute in Dublin. She studied spirituality at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, USA and completed her PhD in poetry, at University College Dublin. She is a founder member of the All Ireland Spiritual Guidance Association and is actively involved in Spiritual Directors in Europe. She has written and lectured widely on spiritual topics.
So, the day was to be all about being and becoming grown-up spiritually. As Sr Una spoke, she drew naturally on her love of poetry. It is impossible to do justice here to the wealth of her wisdom or the warmth of the atmosphere. Perhaps a variety of quotations and notes will offer some tasty food for thought …. and maybe you would like to take one or two for prayerful reflection.
- “What makes the soul sing – even when the body is in decline – so that we can awaken the soul in others?”
- We need an expanded consciousness to travel light and let go of past sorrows. Can we be grateful for what we have been able to do in the past, remembering our eternal value in God’s eyes?
Sr Una spent quite some time talking about the fascinating Nautilus shell. It starts off very small and has a tiny soft creature inside. The shell acquires a new segment as creature outgrows the old one. Just like our own spiritual evolution! From the moment we are born and begin to crawl, we continuously discover, learn and outgrow our previous thoughts and views of the world. Like the nautilus, once we've expanded our minds beyond the old segment, we cannot go back to the smaller ones. They simply don’t fit us. In the nautilus, a natural secretion eases the creature from the previous segment to the next. This hardens to form a mother of pearl lining for the shell. What, Sr Una asked, do we use as secretions to ease our journey forward into a new segment of life? music? a prayer? a poem? a hobby? nature? ….
- Ripening comes from within, just like tomatoes, and just as an apple in a drawer of tomatoes can help them to ripen from within, so we can help each other look back on past times in order to move on. In the words of the Tom Jones song: “This is the Sea”:
- Once you were tethered, And now you are free …
That was the river, This is the sea!.
- “Trust in the slow work of God” Teilhard de Chardin
- What am I leaving the next generation?
Compassion, capacity to care, gratitude, giving without counting the cost?
or stagnation and self-absorption?
Integrity (admitting mistakes and failure, not blaming others, wisdom …)?
or despair (hopelessness, it’s always someone else’s fault, the unfinished bucket list, …)?
- Rumi (13th century Persian poet):
I stood before a silkworm one day.
And that night my heart said to me,
“I can do things like that, I can spin skies,
I can be woven into love that can bring warmth to people;
I can be soft against a crying face,
I can be wings that lift, and I can travel on my thousand feet
throughout the earth, my sacs filled with the sacred.”
And I replied to my heart,
“Dear, can you really do all those things?”
And it just nodded “Yes” in silence.
So we began and will never cease.
- Loss of active ministry (kenosis) is hard, but we can still look outwards, help/reassure others and turn diminishment into gratitude, preferably with fun and humour. Can I gift unconditional presence?
- To help others, we need to work on ourselves. Are we “still full of sap, still green”? (Psalm 91)
- Blaming others is a sign of our own unaddressed shadow. Compassion for others grows when we accept our own mistakes.
- Stop whingeing and do your best!!
- Rubbing salt in a wound may sting but it produces good results. Who’s rubbing the salt in my wounds? Which wounds?
- Two gremlins: Fear (I don’t have what it takes) and Lethargy. The struggle is not for sissies!
- Our sole purpose of life, and our instinct, is to seek wholeness of being, the person God created us to be.
Notes and quotes cannot do justice to Sr Una’s gentle yet powerful way of presenting the endless challenge of growing up spiritually. We came away with joy and gratitude in our hearts, but the day was not yet over ….
Visit to one of the Medaille Trust’s 9 Safe Houses
Before going on our day’s course, Sr Henrietta (one of the Trustees of the Medaille Trust) told us that there was a safe house in a nearby location. She encouraged us to visit and make ourselves know. This we did and were rewarded with: -
a loving, warm welcome,
an opportunity to meet some of the enthusiastic staff and a few of the residents,
a look around the spacious premises and garden – new home to 26 residents, and
a brief overview of how this safe house and its dedicated staff help to rebuild lives – assisting residents with asylum claims, organising medical treatment and therapies, reconnecting victims with their loved ones and providing English lessons and many other types of support.
Staff told us how many of the residents referred to the peaceful atmosphere in the house and associated this with the fact that it was a former convent gifted to the Trust as a safe house.
We left the premises for our homeward journey, consoled and affirmed at having witnessed our charism alive and active!
Srs Alice and Anne