Wise Aging: Living with Joy, Resilience and Spirit
by Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal
Springfield, NJ: Berhman House, 2015
Reviewed by Stephanie Bussey-Spencer Patton
This delightful book is a great resource for spiritual directors, spiritual directees, and anyone interested in aging with wisdom and grace. The book is written so that its chapters can be used individually and are also valuable when considered as a whole. Written for people in the last half of life, there are many suggested activities that could be used for adults of any age. Although Wise Aging is written with the Jewish community in mind, it is applicable to people who identify as Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or other spiritual traditions.
Each chapter includes reader practices, reflection questions, quotes and personal illustrations that can be used in a variety of settings from individual spiritual direction sessions, to small group meetings, to retreats. The authors stress the importance of spiritual practices that lead the reader to experience aging as a gift and death as a normal part of life.
The book begins by “exploring this [aging] stage of life” where “being, creating, feeling and enjoying can take precedence over striving. Where we have time to learn to reflect, to create, and to cultivate wisdom” (13). The focus in the first chapter is to recover the authentic self while embracing the newness that comes with this stage in life.
The second chapter entitled “The River of Life” is particularly useful to adults of all ages. This section invites readers to reflect on their journey in life thus far. The image of life as a flowing river is pleasing and powerful. Perhaps the most difficult part of aging is facing the changes that come with the body. In chapter 3, “I Am My Body, I Am Not My Body,” the authors delve into the ways that body and soul are both interrelated and separate. Again, this section could be helpful to people of various ages, particularly women who struggle with body image issues.
The importance of cultivating nourishing relationships in life is addressed in chapter 4. This chapter, which again is useful to adults of many ages, stresses the importance of making peace with family relationships, growing new and old friendships, and letting go of relationships that drain rather than uplift. Chapter 5 focus on forgiveness and reconciliation is powerful and again, helpful to adults of all ages. The suggested exercises are particularly strong in this section of the book and could easily stand alone.
The authors then address how one cultivates spiritual qualities for well-being. The focus in chapter 6 is to develop a posture of grace as one ages. Qualities emphasized for one’s well-being are: gratitude, generosity, patience, joy and equanimity. Both chapter 7 and 8 address challenging aging issues—the authors address loss and conscious dying. Delicately and honestly, these subjects are approached with dignity and hope while activities are suggested to assist the reader in accepting the losses that come with aging and the ultimate end to life.
Finally, the book concludes in chapter 9 with a focus on leaving a (spiritual) legacy for one’s loved ones as well as good stewardship as one life ends. Perhaps the most beautiful section of the book, the reader is left pondering his or her life purpose. Wise Aging will be a welcome addition to the spiritual director’s library.
Stephanie Bussey-Spencer Patton has been a spiritual director for almost ten years, a Presbyterian pastor for over twenty-five years, and a teacher throughout her lifetime. Currently serving as pastor of Oakland Presbyterian Church, Stephanie recently received her doctorate of ministry in spiritual direction from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She lives in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, and can be contacted at RevStephBS@aol.com.