JOHN DEMPSTER: What those brief visions of the people we are becoming tell us
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The photo shows some of the folk who attend Rhymes Recollected at my church. It’s great to meet other older people, to see their humour, resilience, love of life – and shared passion for poems old and new!
Sometimes I have a positive mental picture, bathed in the light of faith, of myself in older age. It includes (and these are all things I have personally experienced and rejoiced in recently): an acceptance of my mortality; a conviction that no matter what happens to me I am loved by God; a sense that each day is a precious gift; enjoyment of the Earth’s loveliness. And belief that death is not the end, but a gateway to the next stage of the journey.
At a birthday meal for two 80-year-olds recently, I met lots of people from their church – including some I hadn’t seen for 30 years. I noticed how much older they looked – and no doubt they thought the same about me!
Those ageing faces, and some of the things I hear at Rhymes Recollected make me question how well, really, I will cope with growing older. For many, the years of ageing are the most difficult of all, as we face frailty and ill-health, the painful loss of those we love, and questions of the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of our passing.
But we do not journey alone – at its best, our church accompanies us through every stage of living. A short Bible talk after the birthday meal referred to God’s promised presence with us as we grow older: ‘Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I have made you and will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.’
So it is not a question of me, through a mental exercise, trying to carry the insights which have been so real to me recently into the future. The God who is the source both of these truths and of my perception of them can make them real in the future. And even if God does not, even if the mist descends, I will still trust God.
As Christians, we often have brief visions of the people we are becoming – people of a stronger, unwavering faith, a profounder awareness of God – and sometimes we glimpse the destination, its gates flung wide to welcome us. It is God who makes these things real to us, so that we see, momentarily, a world made new, and hear the poem of the future.
Such visions are true in the profoundest sense, permeating the present like a sweet perfume from a distant country where one day we will be welcomed, where already we belong.