“I Grow Old, I Grow Old …”
—T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock, has not lost any of its Grim Reaper power over the years. If anything, the poem’s long and sad forecast for the human condition has acquired an edge of panic. What will become of our world? What will become of me? What will become of the church? Over and against the despair of Prufrock, and over and against our own personal and corporate anxieties, we live the Way of Jesus.
Having said that, I must confess that, while celebrating the Holy Eucharist recently, I found the phrase “a death [Jesus] freely accepted …” less than helpful to meet the moment in which we live. The personal challenges of growing old and the atmosphere of global danger within which we live are creating a perfect storm of an inner and amplified distress.
“A death he freely accepted…” comes nowhere near the struggle with self-sacrifice which brought Jesus to the cross. One has only to read the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to know that, while there was eventual acceptance of the Cross, the acceptance was hard-won and only borne by the anguished prayer of blood, sweat, and tears.
It is the full weight and mystery of the total commitment of Jesus to our suffering world that enables us, in turn, to meet and transform our world. This is true not only on the grand scale of ‘the world’—it is also profoundly true for each of us on an intensely personal level. Jesus struggled for you, so that you could know that you are not alone, even in your most intense struggles. St. Paul cried out in Colossians 1:27: “Christ in you, the hope of Glory.”
I read recently of Sister Joan Chittister’s book The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. The following quote for her book comes from the daily letter of the Centre of Action and Contemplation (C.A.C., Albuquerque, New Mexico): “A burden of these years is the danger of giving into our most selfish selves. A blessing of these years is the opportunity to face what it is in us that has been enslaving us, and let our spirit fly free of whatever has been tying it to the Earth all these years.”
I am close to believing that our lived experience of growing older in Christ, is linked to our blood, sweat and tears engagement with our imperilled world.
In Christ, we cannot separate our personal journey from the journey of the world. This means his suffering is ours and our suffering is His. His beauty, courage, and grace belong to us and our beauty, courage, and grace belong to Him. Our aging is the ground of our sanctification and our sanctification is one means by which God’s presence is made known in our world.
We may grow old like Prufrock and also say with him, “I was afraid.” But it is not the last word we have to bring to the times within which we live.