Seniors shown that aging is a gift

MEPKIN ABBEY—The monks of Mepkin Abbey want people entering the second stage of life to open their eyes and see aging as a period of growth instead of decline.

To that end, Trappist Father Guerric Heckel was instrumental in creating a series of lectures and retreats that focus on the self development and spiritual growth of senior citizens.

He said the three held this year have been a success and he is looking forward to a continuation in 2014. The monastery can only handle 20 participants at a retreat, and they had to turn away at least 15 for the most recent. Father Guerric notes the lecture series can hold more, and is beneficial even without the accompanying retreat.

He said participants share their experiences and fears of aging, and learn to view it as a gift. Attendees expressed feelings of empowerment, joy and peace.

Father Guerric said his own sense of aging led him to reach out to others when he discovered that his body would no longer take him where his mind wanted to go. He had to come to terms with issues of elderhood and wanted to offer the contemplative practices central to the Cistercian way of life to others.

The tools that served the first half of life may not be there anymore, he explained, so seniors need to access new ways that can help build a bridge between the two halves.

A central aspect is the relationship with God and the understanding that He is a real presence in the here and now, not just an abstract in one’s own mind.

Other practices such as centering prayer help people appreciate silence in a number of ways, such as through nature, journaling, or immersing oneself in calming sound, such as water.

Speakers in the lecture series focused on different aspects, teaching elders to accept and move forward in a spiritually positive way.

One of the goals is to restore the role of the elderly in the church and community, Father Guerric said, noting that everyone needs to be aware of the real contributions seniors can make to life.

“I never expected my 70s to be so exciting,” he said. “Now I can’t wait for my 80s because I have met some of the most passionate people in their 80s.”

Some of the topics covered in the lectures and retreats included:

• “Grieving Our Losses,” by Sister Ann Billard of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy. She spoke about embracing a new energy by moving on from grief, whether that is the death of a loved one or just the passage of time.

• “Harvesting Our Gains,” by Lyndall Hare, a gerontologist and eldercare coach. Her talk was on leaving a positive legacy through mentoring, engagement, prayer, storytelling and more.

• “Dedicating Our Suffering,” by Jane Thibault, a clinical professor of geriatrics and gerontology who is currently a consultant for aging issues. She specializes in the spiritual aspects of releasing pain.

The monastery will continue to serve the elderly in their spiritual journey by offering the lecture series each year.

Father Guerric said they also have plans for two retreats that will focus on the “Heart of Aging with Wisdom and Vitality”, scheduled for Feb. 14-16 and 17-19.

For more information, contact Father Guerric at guerricheckel@gmail.com.

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