Surely if humans are fortunate enough to live longer than the age of producing and rearing of offspring, there must be a purpose. We know that elderhood is a distinct phase in life that many of us achieve through the grace of longevity. It involves completing the previous stages of childhood, adolescence and adulting. Elders are those who have lived the joys and sorrows of life and who have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and insights that can only be acquired through years of experience.

At the Journeying into Conscious Eldering Conference held earlier in the year, facilitator, Karon Donnellon rsm, invited the participants to consider the qualities that stand out as vital for Sisters of Saint Joseph when considering conscious eldering. We agreed that ageing is a natural process that involves decline and physical changes and we spoke of conscious eldering as getting older with intention, self-awareness, resilience and grace. It involves finding meaning and purpose addressing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of ageing. It is an opportunity for growth, wisdom and personal transformation through self-reflection, relational connectedness and generativity.

Josephite conscious eldering is experienced as relational connectedness through providing room for authenticity, healing, trust, maturing wisdom and welcoming the stranger.

Leaving behind the years of yearning for others to see me as somebody, I soften into becoming my future, with permission from SELF to continually unfold as I choose, without concern for how others may see me…  I become an elder.  Cathy Carmody, On Becoming an Elder

We spoke often and passionately about being agents of our own futures and Karon asked the question “If I am an agent of my own future, what does that look like in a religious community?”

It is understood that people can only have self-agency if they are enabled and if they choose to be self-directed. Enabling requires deep listening in how each individual perceives their needs and the ability to walk with each other in decision making. As a member of a Congregation, agency also requires each Sister to take responsibility for meeting the obligations required when choosing to be part of a religious organisation, while ensuring that personal choices are respectful of others.

Religious are not exempt from the frailties experienced by the human condition. The Health Care Coordinators and Community Leaders expressed a vulnerability when journeying with some Sisters living with cerebral, emotional or physical health conditions. They requested education in understanding specific conditions that would assist them to loving walk with Sisters whose lives are affected by ill health.

It was not lost on the participants that at the same time as the congregation is exploring a new way of being, the Congregational and Regional Leaders, Community Leaders, Health Care Coordinators and a group of elders were delving into ways to build cultures of trust. Parker Palmer says that The Five Habits of the Heart are: understanding we are all in this together, appreciation of the value of ‘otherness’, an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways, a sense of personal voice and agency and a capacity to create community.

Regional Groups actively worked together to develop strategies to take away from the gathering that would assist them to go away and build teams of relationship and trust.

Genuine trust has muscle and soul. It takes charge of anxiety and worry, replaces them with self-confidence and assertiveness and the conviction that all shall be well. Noel Davis, The Joy of Living

We asked ourselves, for who am I a beacon? All life has meaning and as Christians we are drawn to participate in God’s mission to “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… and over all these virtues put on love…”. (Col 3: 12 & 14) For us, it is experienced as relational connectedness through providing room for authenticity, healing, trust, maturing wisdom and welcoming the stranger.

Maryellen Thomas rsj
Josephite Eldering Team