On Aging: God With Us

Today I forgot to buy red peppers for a dish I’m making for a church potluck. A week I ago I forgot I had a house community dinner. A few months ago I completely forgot a meeting and left a friend eating lunch by herself. Age, it seems, is catching up with me. It’s not bad if I remember to write things down. Still, it’s rather disconcerting when your mind, or body, begins to betray you despite your best efforts to live like nothing is changing. 

Christmas, like most birthdays, tends to be that season when I’m reminded how the world keeps revolving and changing. Every time I go home to visit my family I marvel at how the young ones are maturing. I see how my friends are adapting to new challenges and situations. I notice how my hometown is slowly, ever so slowly, developing. And I feel it within in my old prairie bones, weakened by mild west-coast weather, the aching of nostalgia. But it’s weighted with the realization that I am changing and aging with the rest of the world.

I think of that old prophetess Anna in Luke’s gospel. She appears in the story of baby Jesus as Mary and Joseph present him at the temple, a mere eight days after his birth. All we know of her is that she is the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. And she is old. Whether she has been widowed for 84 years or she is 84 years old, the point is that she’s seen a many long years and most of them alone. While her counterpart Simeon gets to belt out a hymn, Anna’s voice is simply narrated; she recognizes the baby as the redemption of Jerusalem. 

Did Anna ever think that she would get to see God’s promise fulfilled after so many years of praying? The Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. But it’s not mentioned if the same promise was given to Anna. So I surmise that Anna devoted her entire life to God without any sort of that expectation. And she is rewarded.

I don’t know if it is a matter of getting old, but I am starting to expect less of this life. It’s not that I don’t appreciate youthful enthusiasm – it’s just that I don’t hang my hopes and dreams on what I can accomplish. I am a mere mortal, getting closer to death by the second, and bound to a fleshy, wrinkling body. This doesn’t stop me from doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. But I attempt these things because they’re the right thing to do – not to change the world or even “be the change.” The world, as we see, will always shift with hourglass sand and we along with it. 

Forgive me if I speak with unacknowledged privilege. I admit that these musings are afforded to me because my life isn’t being threatened by corruption, greed, and hatred. In the darkest nights we need the hope that our lives indeed matter to God, and that what we do has an impact. But we can also rest knowing that our salvation has already come. All this shall pass. We might forget a thing or two, and our bodies may begin to protest, but our eyes have seen what is good and what is true: God is with us. Praise the Lord, Emmanuel!

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

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