Learn to use your wisdom to make a difference
Wisdom is hard-earned, coming naturally as people age, but it also can expand with a little effort.
Dominican Sister Carla Mae Streeter, a professor emerita of systemic theology at Aquinas Institute of Theology, recently presented "Spirituality in the Second Half of Life," at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows and at Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield.
"People in this age group have lived a lot of life -- they've experienced both grief and joy in many different forms," Sister Carla Mae said.
They have become wise to the mistakes they and others have made, she noted. "We're wise to the dreams we've had that have challenged us, and we're getting wise to our limitations, to the fact that we can't do everything we once did."
Sister Carla Mae said that in her talks she asks people to try to understand that even though they are growing less in their physical status they are growing in wisdom from life experiences. Also, as people age, they learn more about their faith and their beliefs.
"We have a wider perspective because we're thinking more about death and what comes after. We have a sense of proportion, that 'this too shall pass,' and that some things are short term and others are really significant."
She cites four steps for growing in wisdom.
The first is to heighten awareness. "We have to really notice stuff. There's a lack of awareness of God being in the depths of our soul. We need to recover the deepest center of ourselves, to be attentive not just to the surface stuff but the deepest presence of God that keeps us afloat."
Awareness also extends to human relationships and to nature, she said.
The second step is to ask questions, said Sister Carla Mae, whose career has been noted especially for her work on the dialogue between theology and the sciences. "We can ask questions about our health, about our own mental and emotional state. Pay attention to it, and ask questions about our relationship with God and how we might deepen that."
Other questions should be asked about your relationship with your church community, key issues affecting the nation and politics, the care of the earth, justice, immigration, retirement, finances and more, she urged. "Keep the mind alert to stimulate questions. Questioning is one of our highest spiritual functions."
Ask the questions humbly, with an aim toward getting information and understanding, she said.
The third step is to be careful of making judgments after the data is gathered. Early on, people make snap judgments about people of other races, nationalities and religious, for example, Sister Carla Mae said.
"We need to be careful with our conclusions about our own guilt and our sinfulness. We very often have reached conclusions that are not conclusions of God, who is full of mercy."
These judgments can be about the Church, a family member, life transitions, end-of-life issues and more.
The fourth step is making peace-filled decisions regarding our relationship with God, relationships with loved ones and more. For example, Sister Carla Mae said, "careful decisions need to be made on our personal possessions -- how we let go of things that have been our securities in life -- so we can 'ride light in the saddle.'"
She noted a Scripture reading on building a house and the need for a strong foundation being compared to the need for everyone to have a good foundation "to claim the center of our soul."
Sister Carla Mae, who enjoys making her own greeting cards and playing the accordion, urges older adults to care for their health, keep stimulated and act with compassion. "I advise them every night when they go to sleep to make sure they go to rest in the arms of the Shepherd. That image of the shepherd holding the little lamb -- that's where we should see ourselves. No matter what happens to us -- we never let go of the idea that we're always in these arms through thick and thin. That assurance gives us the rooted basic faith and security for whatever roller coaster we will ride."
Wisdom, she said, is "faith permeated with love. ... The more wisdom we have, the more we see clearly with love. It's why grandparents are so wonderful."
Sister Carla Mae described retirement as "a shift in freedom" to "do things you always wanted to do," a time to take advantage of intelligence and creativity.
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