‘”Old’ & ‘soul’ cannot do without each other.”

twin lakes turtle

This ancient critter of God’s love was captured via iPhoto today at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota.

She/he was just there.

Not moving.

Attentive to my presence.

Yet, still.

Listening.

Watching.

Waiting.

 

Must be Advent.

 

Anyway, the Thursday Study group at St. Andrew is reading James Hillman’s book, The Force of Character & The Lasting Life.  I am loving his wisdom and recommend the book to any reading this blog.

Tomorrow, we will be talking about chapter 3, titled very simply, Old.   The title for this blog is from that chapter.  What follows are several quotes from the nine pages of his text.  You’ll have to read on and on to find the relationship to the picture from Twin Lakes.

It will be worth your time . . .

What we value most about things called old is precisely their deathless and ageless character.

What about the old things you live with?  Are they aging, dying?  The old chair the cat prefers; the old tumbler your hand enjoys holding for your evening whiskey.  ‘I love this knife; I couldn’t do without it.’  We say ‘love’ more often about things – tools, shoes, hats – than about persons.  Old is one of the deepest pleasures humans know.  Part of the misery  of disasters like floods and fires is the irrevocable loss of the old, just as one of the causes of suburban subdivision depression – and aging and death – is the similar loss of the old, exchanged for a brand-new house and yard.  Old things afford a supporting vitality; without them we find it harder to be alive.

‘Old’ is itself a very old word, supposedly deriving from an Indo-European root that means ‘to nourish.’

Old English manuscripts love eald (old); it is one of the fifty most frequently appearing words in the medieval corpus of legal, medical, religious, and literary texts and occasional scribbles.  And it mainly carries a positive meaning.  Of forty-nine compound words that incorporate eald only eight are clearly negative, like ‘old devil.’    To include eald in a compound generally brings benefits:  trustworthiness, venerability, proverbiality, value.

Oldness is an adventure.  Stepping from the bathtub, hurrying to the phone, or just going down the stairs presents as much risk as traveling camelback in the Gobi.  Once we were down the stairs and out the door way ahead of our feet.  Now who knows when the trick knee will give out or the foot miss the tread.  Once we learned from the fox and the hawk; now the walrus, the tortoise, (ahhh, the picture above) and the moose in a dark bog are our mentors.  The adventure of slowness.

. . . the very word ‘world’ was once spelled wereald, weoreald:  This nourishing place, so full of eald.  It is as if ‘old’ were hidden inside world . . .’

The best I can say of someone, and the worst, is that she/he is old.

Aging opens the door to ‘old,’ and old age opens it yet wider.  That could be its point.

Wearing thin and wearing out, of course, but old also holds time affectionately.  It loves years, decades, centuries.  Old holds off change, bringing all old things nearer to permanence.  Time is not only destructive; it toughens  as well as weakens.  Time lasts (the earth will live long and long past December 21); it keeps on going and going and going and therefore is no enemy of age or of old.

Attending upon the character development of the young, important though it may be, is less our daily job than uncovering our own.  To be fully old, authentic in our being and available in our presence with its gravitas and eccentricity, indirectly affects the public good and thereby their good.  This makes oldness a full-time job from which we may not retire.

Far better than comparing ‘old’ with external ideas like ‘fresh’ and ‘young’ would be teasing apart the web of ideas stuffed into that one short syllable.  The Bible needs at least nine different Hebrew terms plus many variations, while our English language compacts them all together.

Olam = ancient old times.  Gedem = days of old, as before time.  Rachoq = old as far away and long ago.  For old people like Sarah and Job and for old counselors there is zaqen.  Ziqnah = old age.  ‘Cast me not off into the time of old age;/ When my strength faileth’ –  a theme restored in our time and reduced to personal love in the Beatles line:  ‘Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I am sixty-four.’

There is sebah, as a good old age of grey hairs, full of days; balah, a sad one, worn out like old clothes.  Then there is athag, to be removed (advanced in years):  ‘Wherefore do the wicked live,/ Become old, yea, wax mighty in your power?’  Also, y’shiysh, to become very old, and yashan, which is said of old things like stored fruits, gates, pools.

These kinds of old, and more, course though us.  These are the strands and rhythms of human complexity.  One morning we feel we are a bag of bones, a tattered coat upon a stick; on another day, we belong to time before time began, an anachronism as old as Methuselah.  Some days we know ourselves as a number only: 76, 81, 91.

I am a forgotten castaway, a sharp-eyed wise man, still standing like an old gate, immersed in reminiscence of long ago and far away, enjoying wickedness and power, an old plaything of God like Sarah or Job.  On yet another morning I awaken in fullness of my character and all the days of my life, tearful, grateful, and satisfied.  My complexity cannot be reduced to any of these strands.  To be only a mean old man, or always a list of complaints, or a record-breaking centenarian of 105, or a head flowing with long white hair and issuing long tales of cautionary experiences is to reduce the uniqueness of character to the unity of character.  The Bible does not allow that monistic mistake.

 

May you ripen, old soul.

 

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4 Comments

  1. We love old folk and things. Is it because you have a birthday fast approaching that is causing you to think on these things? Someone said once that if you weren’t growing older it would mean that you died young! See you soon!

    Reply

  2. Cat Christensen December 6, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Is growing old commendable or desirable if it has been isolated from the “new’? Basic amoebas resist change and the stress of splitting into two amoebas, but that is how they achieve growth and eventual “oldness” (if I can coin a word here). So I contend that newness and change is inseparable from the gold standard for old and instrumental to the seasoning of the old soul we would revere. Sorry to miss a provocative study group. Happy Birthday to a revered old soul!

    Reply

    1. Yes, I agree. Old is in woven within the complexity of living that includes new and change. In the UCC, we say that in Gracie Allen’s words, “never place a period where God has put a comma.” These of Hillman’s words say something similar about old within the community that includes bud and blossom and rose hip: “To be fully old, authentic in our being and available in our presence with its gravitas and eccentricity, indirectly affects the public good and thereby their good. This makes oldness a full-time job from which we may not retire.”

      Reply

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