Brief Book Review: Aging, Spirituality, and Religion: A Handbook

Aging, Spirituality, and Religion: A Handbook

Edited by: Melvin A. Kimble, Susan H. McFadden, James W. Ellor, and James J. Seeber

Publisher: Fortress Press, hardcover, 637 pages, including: Illustrations, Contributors, Forword, Preface, Introduction: Beginning the Conversation, Index of Names, and Index of Subjects

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Contents

This is a very impressive, comprehensive volume. Counting the 4 editors, there are a total of 55 contributors to this volume. The work was funded by the Lilly Endowment, and is the result ofecumenical, interfaith, and interdisciplinary cooperation. It consists of the following parts: Part One: Religion, Spirituality, And The Aging Person, Part Two: Pastoral Care In An Aging Society, Part Three: Congregational Ministry In An Aging Society, Part Four: Community Outreach In An Aging Society, Part Five: Theological Perspectives On Aging, Part Six: Social Scientific Perspectives On Aging. Each of the parts contain several chapters. A Bibliography is included at the end of each chapter, some of which are very thorough. 

Brief Highlights

Since this is merely a brief review, here are a few insightful highlights and observations that may motivate readers of this review to consult this helpful resource.

Harold G. Koenig, in Part One, highlights some of the research done on religion and health among seniors. He claims that there is more evidence supporting the view that religion enhances mental health and less evidence supporting the view that religion enhances physical health. When asked what helped the elderly to cope with issues of aging, they cited the following: i) prayer; ii) Bible reading; iii) trust in the Lord, faith in God, Jesus Christ; iv) going to church; v) support from their pastor or other members of their congregation. 

Longevity was attributed to three factors: (1) activity (“hard work, exercise, keeping active physically and mentally”), (2) a strong belief in God and “Christian living,” and (3) a positive attitude toward self and others. (p. 24) 

In Part Two, there is an informative chapter titled “Pastoral Care of African Americans” by Anne Streaty Wimberly and Edward P. Wimberly, in which they emphasise the importance of the church and family networks, wherein older African Americans make significant contributions to the growth, development and identity of the next generation. 

In Part Three, the chapter titled “Age-based Jewish and Christian Rituals” by W.A. Achenbaum, points out that Jews honour their elders. In the Talmud there are no limits placed on how often Jews should visit the sick. Full membership in Jewish burial societies were reserved for the elderly, and surplus income from burial plots was used for charity, including orphan care. (p. 204)

For this reviewer, the most helpful chapter in Part Four was “Spiritual Challenges of Nursing Home Life” by Dayle A. Friedman. The author highlights many of the significant factors involved regarding spiritual challenges and care in nursing homes, such as: Routinized, tyrannical, and empty time, loss of meaning, grief, disorientation and disconnection, life with meaning, vertical and horizontal connections, family, religious, and individual celebrations, education, and more. 

Part Five consists of seven theological perspectives on aging: Jewish, Catholic, Evangelical, Neo-Orthodox, Process Theology, Feminist Theology, Constructive Theology, with a concluding chapter entitled “Science and Religion in Dialogue. In the chapter on Feminist Theology, author Mary M. Knutsen points out that elderly women live seven to eight years longer than men, and are more likely than men to live in poverty. Over half of the black and Hispanic elderly females living alone lived at or below the poverty level, according to one study. 

The chapter in Part Six by Barbara Pittard Payne, “The Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology” is quite informative. It provides a brief history of gerontology, which came into existence as an area of scientific study in the mid-twentieth century, trends and themes in social gerontology, including health-care costs, caregiving, minorities and gender, trends and themes in gerontology and religion, including faith and aging, religious practices, beliefs and behaviour, nonorganizational religious activities, the differences between religious liberals and religious conservatives, religion and health.

This volume is a comprehensive, helpful “go to” resource for seminarians, pastors and chaplains, as well as others who work with seniors in a variety of professions.

Please note: This review is of Volume 1. Volume 2 was published later, and I have not read it. 

Thoughts on moving, mortality, aging

Thoughts on moving, mortality, aging

The old English bard, William Shakespeare, speaking through the Chief Justice said in Henry IV, Part 2: “Have you not a moist eye, a dry hand, a yellow cheek, a white beard, a decreasing leg, an increasing belly? Is not your voice broken, your wind short, your chin double, your wit single, and every part about you blasted with antiquity, and will you yet call yourself young?” And in the same play, through Hastings, said: “We are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone.”

This past week, I spent a couple days moving my mother into a senior’s apartment. It was quite a chore, having to downsize her into smaller quarters, and for her to give up and let go of some valued treasures, as well as her pride in being independent. Her philosophical/theological commentary on it was: “Nothing stays the same, life is full of changes.”

On the upside, the family members, including yours truly, have much less anxiety over her safety and the opportunity for her to live in the senior’s community with various social programs, meals, and even regular, weekly worship services. For that we are most grateful.

However, the downsizing and move into smaller quarters is a reminder to me anyways, of our mortality, the aging process, and preparation for death. Even though commercials selling products like “Oil of Olay” promise eternal youth—we know deep down in our souls that we are mortals, grow old, and eventually die. The necessity of downsizing also reminds me of two things. First, we are a materialistic culture and place way too much value and status in our earthly possessions. Second, as Jesus said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-2; Lk 12:32-34) As we all know, one person’s treasures is another person’s junk—and vice-versa. What/Whom do you treasure?