The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The Gift of Years and Young@Heart


The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister is an inspiring and encouraging salute to the great spiritual adventure of aging. Chittister, 70, is a Benedictine sister, the author of more than 35 books, the founder of a spirituality center andco-chair of the Un-sponsored Global Peace Initiative for Women. She is a dramatic icon of the zeal that can come from a long life of meaning, passion, commitment and service.

Chittister challenges media stereotypes of old people by citing research studies. For example, in 2005 only 7 percent of those between 75 and 84, and only 25 percent of those over 84 need help with personal care. Only 5 percent of those over 65 are in special-care institutions. “Clearly,” she concludes, “life does not end till it ends.”

In a series of short, bright and snappy chapters, Chittister provides a tour of what it means to grow older gracefully. She covers the challenges of dealing with regret and the fear of weakness, the joy of accepting mystery, the opportunity to savor relationships, the pleasure of harvesting memories, the blessings of forgiveness and the importance of lifelong learning. “Old age is not when we stop growing,” she writes. “It is exactly the time to grow in new ways. It is the period in which we set out to make sense of all the growing we have already done. It is the softening season when everything in us is meant to achieve its sweetest, richest, most unique self” (BlueBridge; available from Amazon).


Young@Heart is an extraordinary documentary that illustrates many of Joan Chittister’s points about the gift of years. Filmmaker Stephen Walker spends seven weeks with a New England senior citizens chorus and their director, Bob Climan. These retirees, many of them in their 70s and 80s, are preparing for a concert and an upcoming European tour. They are known for their unusual repertoire of rock, punk and R&B classics.

This chorus shatters the stereotype that old people are set in their ways as they struggle to wrap their brains around the complicated music of Sonic Youth’s dissonant rock anthem “Schizophrenia” and the tongue-twisting lyrics in Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can.”

Two high points of the film are their performance of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” at a local prison and a solo tour de force by Fred Knittle, who is suffering from congestive heart failure, of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

The film also includes music videos produced by the chorus of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and David Bowie’s “Golden Years.”

This documentary changes our perceptions of long-lived individuals and makes it clear that singing is a life-affirming, community-building and very nurturing spiritual practice (Fox Searchlight—PG).


judith simon

judith simon

Posted at 11:52 am (U.S. Eastern) 6/16/2008

Joan Chittester is on a path as a crusader...just a little ahead of each of us.  She has learned to recluse and shape her thoughts before refining them again.  I am so grateful for any Light thrown on this time after retirement.  More and more is being written about these years e.g. Sr. Brewi's books on Middle Age and Long Age. We must learn the language for these times.  Let us speak these to each other.

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