Aging In A Sacred Manner

Aging is tough. There is so much loss. Little by little our bodies betray us. In varying degrees and combinations we lose our teeth, our hair, our hearing, our vision, our memory, our continence, the flexibility of our joints, our very strength. It’s embarrassing, humbling, frustrating. We also lose the ability to enjoy many of activities we loved. And far worse than these physical losses, is the loss of friends and family who die before us.

Clara muses as she struggles with her aches and fragility: “It’s only aging. Aging is never easy. It’s the toughest challenge on top of all the challenges of incarnate existence, and comes at the end when, hopefully, we have accumulated enough strength of spirit to handle it.”

How then do we age in sacred manner? How find transcendence out of such myriad difficulties?

My mother, Katharine Day Barnes, wrote a poem in her old age, from which I derived the title for my novel.

“There are warnings enough—that first cold night in August

When Andromeda swings up in the East and crickets are silent!

The early dusk of September, heavy dew in the garden,

And blurring eyes, and aches, and names forgotten.

Never again, never again the summer of strength and beauty.

Friends waver and vanish—O chill north wind of warning!

Look long, love deep while you may.

Too soon December.”

Perhaps the first step in bringing transcendence to aging is accepting it, and the death that looms, as part of the natural rhythm of life.

Clara explains to the immortal Elirians who seek to understand aging and death, “It’s like the seasons of our Earth—the newness of spring, the fullness of summer, the withering of fall, the death of winter.”



Gratitude and presence are also key to aging in a sacred manner. Gratitude for all that is past—all the gifts, the adventures, the people we have loved, the lessons learned. Gratitude even for the bitter lessons, holding them in gentleness and forgiveness.

Gratitude for the present. With age, let us find at the last the wisdom to savor the gifts of each moment—the opening of a flower, the mutable colors of the sky, the shining eyes of a child, the smile of a beloved, the taste of food, the comfort of a warm bed. Most of all, may we drink in and give back love.

When Lenny and Clara learn that Lenny is dying, Clara asks in grief, “What will we do?” and Lenny answers,  “We will live every single moment we have left together so deeply each one will be an eternity.”

As we age we become like an old rock wall that shifts, settles, and crumbles. Being grateful, being present are like growing flowers into our crumbling spaces.

Look long, love deep.

To Love In A Sacred Manner

On Eliria, since there is neither male nor female, Elirians are not troubled with sexuality. They are beings of perfect love and go peacefully about their tasks of creating harmony without being distracted.

On Earth, human sexuality is a tremendous force affecting every aspect of our lives: religion, politics, culture, family, gender roles, self-identity.

The spectrum of how we use that power is wide, touching at it’s worst the deepest depravity of humankind: rape, mutilation, murder, abuse of all kinds. I will not write more of that. It is in the paper most days.

At the other end of the spectrum, sex can be truly making love, bonding, comfort, delight, the creation of a desired child, the inspiration of great art in many forms, ecstasy, connection with the divine. As Lyra discovered, “dancing into the Light.”

How can we turn the force of sexuality to the highest end of the spectrum? How can we love in a sacred manner?

I think of two words: respect and kindness. They are not dramatic words, maybe not even especially romantic ones; but if all human sexuality were channeled through respect and kindness, it would be a different world indeed. 

In his book The Presence Process, Michael Brown writes that unconditional love is what everyone wants most and that all of our dramas amount to ways that we seek to get it. “Unfortunately unconditional love is not an experience we can force others to channel our direction through the manifestation of drama. . . .Unconditional love must be given to be experienced, for it is only through the act of giving that it is experienced.”

As I read those words, I was deeply touched. There was a sense that I had always known that somewhere in my soul, but only then did I realize it. The only way to know unconditional love is to give it.

What is unconditional love? This is a huge, infinite question, because such love is infinite, beyond human comprehension. Perhaps we begin with respect and kindness, and move on to love that is without judgement, attachment, or expectation, love that is committed to the highest good of the beloved.

(I am no authority on this. I speak only from the experiences and yearnings of my  heart.)

It seems that though such love is the essence of God, always within and around us, pouring through us, we are like kinked and leaky hoses that cut the flow to a trickle or send it off in divergent directions.

Clara muses after returning from her time with the Elirians, “I have been in the presence of perfect love. How can my imperfect self bear such love? How can I go again among humans where love is twisted, tainted? How can I not?”

Is is possible for us faulty humans love unconditionally?

I want to think it is at least worth a try. The great teachers call us to transformation. Sharon Salzberg in her book Lovingkindness, quotes the Buddha as saying, “Abandon what is unskillful. One can abandon the unskillful. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.  . . . Cultivate the good. One can cultivate the good. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.”

My beloved teacher, Ida Rolf, said, “Perfection is not an appropriate goal for three-dimensional reality— but working toward it is.”

If we seek to embody this love, it is like stepping off a cliff like the Fool in the Tarot, or standing at the edge of the ocean intending to swim to the horizon.

Dare we jump? Dare we plunge in?