Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Old Folk Dreaming Dreams...

Today our church lunch club is going out for our Christmas Dinner – over 60 people aged 60 to 102 (plus me, a (just turned) 45 year old minister!). A selection of walking frames, walking sticks and the odd wheelchair; people who have no short-term memory, people who are registered blind, people who take so many pills they ought to rattle. And there will be a few gaps – an occupational hazard – as illness, infirmity and the inevitability of death’s embrace claim their chosen ones.

As I prepare to go and help them climb onto the coach, I find myself recalling words of Michel Quoist, Sydney Carter, the ancient prophet Joel and the gospel according to Luke…

Michel Quoist:

God says: I like youngsters, I want people to be like them.
I don’t want old people unless they are still children.
I want only children in my kingdom; this has been decreed from the beginning of time.
Youngsters – twisted, humped, wrinkled, white-bearded – all kinds of youngsters, but youngsters.

‘I like Youngsters’ Prayers of Life, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1963 p 3

Sydney Carter:

You are older than the world can be,
You are younger than the life in me;
Ever old and ever new,
Keep me travelling along with you.
And it’s from the old I travel to the new
Keep me travelling along with you.

‘One more step along the world I go’ Sydney Carter © Stainer and Bell

The Prophet Joel:

…I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days…’
Joel 2: 28b – 29

The Gospel According to Luke

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old…
Luke 2: 36a

I have to confess that I am not a fan of the carol ‘Away in a Manger,’ it seems overly sentimental and has become associated with the ‘ah’ factor of cute, small children with clear skin, gappy smiles and endearing mispronunciations. Yet, when sung by my ‘wrinklies’, with wavering voices, dewy eyes and white hair, it always brings a lump to my throat.

Christmas a time for children? Or Christmas a time for youngsters, for God’s children? Part of the mystery of what we are celebrating in a few days is how the God who is beyond time, before and after all that was and is and ever will be, also became a child, new and tiny and vulnerable, constrained by humanity. Although Anna does not appear in the story until after Christmas, I have no qualms about drawing her into Advent. She and Zechariah, who may also have been old, were waiting and praying for this wonder, daring to imagine hopefully, daring to dream… praise God they were able to see the promise fulfilled!

Today John* will laugh at things that tomorrow he will not remember; Maisie* will ignore her diabetes and eat things that give her indigestion; Ethel* will need her food cut up and Peter* will probably complain. But for a moment, I will glimpse once more the child within each of these precious children of God, for whom Christ was born. I wonder what their dreams are as they approach Christmas?

Old people dreaming dreams; youngsters seeing visions, the old made young, the infinite contracted to a span. Such is the mystery. Such is the gift. Such is our God.

* Names have been changed


jim Gordon said...

This is a beautifully conceived Advent reflection, Catriona. That perceptive noticing of older people for who they are in the completeness of their story, is itself a moving expression of pastoral presence. I share your love for the elderely, both your honest realism about and uncomplicated affirmation of those whose stories are near told. The elderly are not resource rich in todays world, neither in church nor society - does anyone know of a specialist ministry, complete with training and resourcing, comparable to 'youth ministry'? Just wondering.....

Catriona said...

Hi Jim,
I'm really blessed to be only 6 miles from BUGB's only (so far as we know) specialist older person's minister - and she trained with me as a generalist. She is doing some research into older people's spirituality and has taught me loads just by being herself.