In the 60’s young people discovered a spirituality that was different from what their their parents had taught them. It was exciting and exotic adventure. Before that. we had “religion” and you believed in the dogmas or you didn’t. No real alternatives had existed. But it happened quite often that even strict atheists began to believe in God towards the end of their lives.
Today we can be spiritual without needing to “believe”. For many of us, spirituality, has become an internal journey of self discovery and contact with other realms of being. Certainly, some young people begin a spiritual journey with various motives, but normally youth is not much concerned with wanting to know the deep existential truths.
Getting older changes the picture. We begin to become aware that life won’t go on forever and questions arise about death and afterlife. So the turn towards religion or spiritual teachings becomes a natural way of being in the world – the attempt to prepare for what will be coming next.
The experience of growing older makes naive spiritual idealism less and less tenable. As our bodies change and we see more and more of those we have known and loved passing away, the bittersweet nature of mortal existence becomes undeniable. Some people close off in resistance and become depressed or resentful, whereas others recognize the evergreen nature of the present moment, and deeply savor the holiness of brokenness.
I may come to “ache in places where I used to play” as Leonard Cohen so poignantly put it, and darkness may no longer be a stranger. But youthful illusions of immortality are blinding, and in the presence of darkness we can come to know the light far more intimately. Most importantly, we soften, and in softening, we become capable of the tenderness that is the essence of both human and divine love.
The elders have the sacred function to hold the suffering and the brokenness of the world. If we do this authentically, pain and loss do not necessarily diminish, but they can be seen as sacred, and authentic lightheartedness more and more often breaks through.