January 2016

Spirit logo

A newsletter from the
California Lutheran Homes and Sunny View
Centers for Spirituality and Aging
Beginning Anew
I realized many years ago that New Year's resolutions didn't work particularly well for me. It was easy to aspire to make great strides in an area and far more difficult to actually stay steadily on the path to achieving my goal. From the reading I've done and conversations that I've held, I think I'm not alone in that experience.

A couple of the spirituality web places where I hang out have featured the idea of listening for a word that would become yours for this next year.  A word that would invite you to experience life and spirit in a new way and context. As I was driving one day the last week in December my word for 2016 appeared. It was "margin."  

The word, "margin," came to me as I was berating myself once again for not being as timely as I wanted to be. I realized that I rarely allow enough margin in my planning to allow for the contingencies of life. I came home and did a bit of art journaling to remind myself of my word and what I wanted for this year.

A week later, I am realizing how many patterns need to shift in order for me to have the kind of margin in my life I desire to have. I am seeking at this point just to notice the ways and the times I rob myself of margin. I'm seeking to begin to make some small changes that would bring some margin in. And in the meantime I'm keeping this image and the desire it represents before me.

I was talking with a friend this week and she commented how hard it is to break old patterns, even when we want to very much. That's a reality.  But it's also a reality that, through paying attention and making small changes, new patterns can be created.

It doesn't get any easier to make these changes as we age. I do believe that we continue to become more of who we are the older we get. But aging doesn't preclude the possibility of newness and change. How are you doing with your desires and dreams for this new year? Do you have a word for this year? And how can we assist the older adults we serve to identify their dreams and desires for their own growth and change?  
Beyond Care: Exploring the Glorious Adventure of the Spirit with Wendy Lustbader 
Tuesday, February 2, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Part of what gives us the ability to identify patterns in our lives and to begin to make changes is knowing our own history in a deep way. Our day with Wendy Lustbader on February 2 will offer us the opportunity to reflect on experiences of frailty and vulnerability in our lives and in the process open us to new freedom and growth.  

Wendy Lustbader, our distinguished presenter of this workshop, was one of the very first speakers that the CLH Center for Spirituality and Aging brought to Southern California.  It is a joy to welcome her back for this 15th Anniversary Celebration. 
In the first part of the workshop, she leads us in exploring our own lives, making real for us the many ways the soul enlarges when we move through explorations that may have seemed daunting previously.  She uses as an example Carter Catlett Williams' quest as an elder to excavate a grief from childhood, using excerpts from recorded interviews and from portions of  Williams' book, Glorious Adventure.

Through this we experience for ourselves how grief and vulnerability can become doorways to spiritual wellbeing. Wendy shows us that as we experience the healing and transformation that comes from participating in this journey, we are able to invite others to embark on the "Glorious Adventure" with open hearts and a readiness for discovery.

Wendy Lustbader has a BA in Philosophy/Religion from Wesleyan University and a MSW from the University of Washington.  She has been an Affiliate Associate Professor and is presently Lecturer at the University of Washington School of Social Work. She i s a much sought plenary speaker and workshop presenter, presenting at meetings of the American Society on Aging, the Pioneer Network Annual Conference, and for many social work, gerontology and caregiver conferences.   She is the author of the books  Counting on Kindness:  The Dilemmas of Dependency (1991), What's Worth Knowing (2001), and Life Gets Better: The  Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older  (2011).   

On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's 
As the incidence of Alzheimer's disease increases in our aging society, more and more books are being written about the experience. Most are written by those caring for persons with Alzheimer's. On Pluto:  Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's  by Greg O'Brien tells the Alzheimer's experience from the perspective of one who has the disease. A journalist with 35 years of writing and editing experience, O'Brien brings formidable writing skills, humor and faith to the this account.  

When he was diagnosed at the age of 59, O'Brien was working as president of a political and communications strategy firm, married and the father of three grown children.  He was also helping his parents with their own health issues, including his mother's own Alzheimer's disease. In this book he tells family stories and describes his strategies for continued living and working with the disease with humor and grace.

This telling is rich in metaphors. The guiding metaphor is Pluto. He says, "My private darkness in allegorical terms is Pluto, a reference from my early days as an investigative reporter when I went deep 'off-the-record' with sources. 'We're heading out to Pluto,' I would say, 'where no one can hear what is said.' Pluto is relegated now to 'dwarf planet' status, one of the bodies within the Kuiper Belt, a dense cluster of rock and ice.  It is a fine place to get lost metaphorically. Pluto's orbit, like mine, at times, is chaotic.  It's tiny size makes it sensitive to immeasurably small particles of the solar system, hard to predict factors that will gradually disrupt an orbit--the perfect place to have a conversation that 'never existed' or a conversation one can't recall."

O'Brien's book shows the fortitude and courage of a person facing the disease, intent on besting it for as long as possible. He draws on his Catholic faith and recounts many moments of inspiration in his own journey and in his journey with his mother in her disease. He gives those of use who care for or live with persons with Alzheimer's some insight into their process and what's important. He says, "I've come to understand that Alzheimer's is not about the past. . . Alzheimer's is about the present and the struggle, the scrappy brawl, the fight to live with the disease.  It's being in the present, the relationships, the experiences, which is the core of life, the courage to live in the soul. . . Like every man and woman, these time travelers in disease need guidance, acceptance, trust and love.  So go there with them at times to Pluto, try to fathom their journey.  It's not such a bad place.  We can all get to Pluto; it's just that some of us are not coming back." 

This is a book well worth reading. 

Some Gatherings for Seniors
The Abundant Living Conference, "Yes, My Life Has Meaning," is conducted by the Center for Spirituality of Aging at the Sealy Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston.  This 13th Annual Conference is Monday, February 29-Wednesday, March 2 and is for seniors, their family and caregivers. It's held at in the piney woods of Camp Allen Conference and Retreat Center near Navasota, Texas.  Distinguished plenary speakers and musicians and a variety of leisure activities are all part of the program.  You can register online here.

The Rally in the Valley 2016 is February 15-16 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona and is co-sponsored by the Grand Canyon Synod ELCA and Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center. It's an annual gathering of Senior Saints for the purpose of fellowship, inspiration, challenge and for identifying and mobilizing the strengths, skills, and leadership of seniors for Christian Service.  More information can be found at the event website. 
We are still basking in the reverberations from the 6th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality that the Center hosted in October.  I wrote a bit about responses to the conference on the Center's blog.  We are in conversation about where and when the next one will be held, but tentatively it will be in the U.S. again in 2017.  Stay tuned here and at the Conference website for more information. 

In the meantime we are planning an event in the spring to celebrate the launch of the publishing of The Essential Spirit, a book edited my Donald Koepke, director emeritus of the Center.  You will hear more.

If you are at all able, I encourage you to join us in Anaheim on February 2, for "Beyond Care:  The Glorious Adventure of the Spirit."  It's going to be great!
Many blessings!

Nancy Gordon, Director
California Lutheran Homes and Sunny View Centers for Spirituality and Aging