Cleaning out files last week, I came upon my notes on all seven books our retired women’s group has read so far.
When we began five years ago, retirement was new for us, exciting and a bit scary. So we started by looking it straight in the face, with Marjory Zoet Bankson’s Creative Aging: Rethinking Retirement and Non-Retirement in a Changing World.
Next the five of us turned to books on aging and spirituality by Catholic authors. In A Season of Mystery, Paula Huston introduced us to 10 spiritual practices for a “happier second half of life,” such as delighting, lightening and blessing. In The Gift of Years, Joan Chittister gave us 40 short reflections on topics such as meaning, fulfillment and letting go. Later we grappled with “awakening as we age” and other Buddhist-tinged concepts in Kathleen Dowling Singh’s The Grace in Aging.
In our last several books we’ve explored aspects of spirituality which are not age-specific. We focused for a time on Joyce Rupp’s The Open Door: A Journey to the True Self. Then we entered Christine Valters Paintner’s Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics. She showed us inner archetypes such as the Fool, the Orphan and the Visionary through introducing us to “monks and mystics” such as Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day and Hildegard of Bingen.
We’re currently savouring Richard Wagamese’s Embers – short meditations from an Ojibway perspective on themes like stillness, reverence and gratitude, with wonderful nature photos.
I asked each woman to comment either on her favorite book or on our method of conducting our (nearly) monthly three-hour sessions. Nobody could choose a favorite book – and I couldn’t either! As Brenda put it, “I have enjoyed all the books, and whichever one we are discussing at the time is my favorite. I think this indicates that the books are merely a spark for the rich conversation and wisdom generated by our time together.”
We rotate leading the sessions and hosting the group. When we meet, food is an important ingredient. Kaye speaks for all of us in naming, “Our group appreciates both the flavour and the beauty of food. And food shared makes it taste and look even better.”
Of our sessions themselves Muriel says, “One of the things I appreciate most is the structure of our meetings, which insures that each person has uninterrupted time for sharing. We each have a chance to reflect in silence before offering our responses. For me, that structure is a primary ingredient in keeping our circle a safe and trusting space.”
Here’s how it works: the leader of the day sends us an “opening question” for our initial round of sharing (with food). The question may be related to the theme of the chapter or to the season of the year. Or it may simply prompt us to each offer a happening from our lives since the last time we met.
Then we enter the main block of response time to the chapters we have all read. Each person takes up to 15 minutes to reflect, with no interruptions. She may name highlights of the chapter, talk about how it connects with her life, or take issue with it! After a moment of quiet, we each feed back to her some observations, usually of appreciation or agreement. Then we go on to the next person. We take a break (for more food!) after two or three persons have presented. At the end, the facilitator for the day may close with words of sending.
Ardith says, “I often find that listening to others reminds me of things I had forgotten, or sheds a slightly different light on something that also caught my attention. I always go home feeling enriched and grateful for this group of women who have become dear friends and fellow travelers.”
Kaye affirms, “My appreciation for this group runs deep. Being given the opportunity to share one’s reflections with openness and honesty and to have those reflections held and honoured with loving care, attention, and wisdom is a profound experience. It is an honour and a pleasure to be part of this group – enjoying the company of each other on this quest of greater self discovery in retirement and aging.”
Brenda adds, “Aging is inevitable, but how we age can be so intentional with the encouragement of friends. Taking our circle to the cottage has been so meaningful and adds beauty to this space. Laughter has also been an important part of our time together.”
I think it’s clear how my spirit is nourished by this group! I love reading books in community with these women. I delight in our annual cottage days. I also enjoy sharing things like art exercises suggested by various authors. I love to see how what I colour or otherwise create compares to what others have done. This madala is from the St. Francis chapter in Illuminating the Way.
Questions for Reflection:
- How have groups you have joined fostered respect for members and their varied experiences?
- Do you agree that “food shared makes it taste and look even better?”
Next week: TBA