The Wisdom of An Elder

I was visiting with Sister Josiah, 86 years old, who for many years had collected herbs—chamomile, aloe, comfrey, valerian, echinacea—to remedy sisters’ physical complaints. At one point in our conversation, she asked me to repeat what I’d just said. “I didn’t hear you…Everything goes when a person gets old; she pointed to her ears, eyes and stomach. We leave the world as we came into it—as a child with nothing. This is my second childhood.”

“What is it like for you to be a child again?” I inquired.

“Oh! I never saw as much as I see now! Two days ago, I walked along the front of the main building of the monastery. I was so amazed at the different plants growing there. I even saw one creeper inching up the wall. Out of all the vines that were there many years ago, it is the only one that has survived. And the green colors—so many shades of green! When I was younger, I never noticed all those colors and so many kinds of plants. All my eyes could see was the herb I was collecting that day. Sister, I see so much now in my near-blindness that I never saw before! And I’m very grateful!”

I join S. Josiah in gratitude, especially during this season of Thanksgiving. “Thank you, God, for the gifts of ears, eyes, skin and nerves to feel, mouth, and nose. I give thanks for your support to use these senses to meet and engage in your world and to add my energy and creativity to it. I ask that you heighten my sensitivity and alertness to open these senses to the gifts you make available through them: fresh chocolate cake, the hand of an elder I hold with care, the sound of voices and their messages, a leaf clinging to a large stone, tenderness and compassion from a friend when I’m grieving or disappointed, emotional pain that stirs me to empathy for victims of physical and psychological abuse, irresponsible baring the land of trees that provokes my anger and protest, the inner sense within me that feels respected and valued…”

As we live with our senses attentive and open to what we tend to overlook, we join S. Josiah when she exclaims in gratitude and joy about what she sees even in her near-blindness. Together, let’s break into song: “Let all creation God’s glory proclaim; with praise and thanks we bless God’s name.”*

*Antiphon for Morning Prayer

Mary Reuter, OSB

Photo: Taken by Chas Reuter