February 8, 2015
Pendle Hill, the Quaker study center, published a paper by John Yungblut entitled “Hallowing Dimishments.” A friend sent me a copy thinking I would be interested in Yungblut’s idea. I am, and I think that you will be as well.
I don’t imagine that you will like either the idea or the experience of diminishment, as such, and I do not intend to attempt to persuade you (or myself) to change this negative view of the process. Diminishment entails loss—complex loss at many levels—and is rarely the cause of celebration. The response to diminishment is more often grief—a gray creeping grief of resignation about the inevitable dark side of life and the reality of aging.
Yungblut thinks, however, that diminishment, although remaining what it is [loss], provides a potential context for a unique stage of growth, spiritually, emotionally, cognitively. Yungblut argues, in effect, that the inevitable process of losing (diminishment) can become a door into valuable gain. This is an application, of course, of the idea Jesus taught when he said that losing life was an act by which life could be gained.
The belief system fostered by our culture fiercely rejects this idea, and, unless we are careful, will confuse and mislead us into setting some unwise life goals. From the cultural view, more, without exception, is better—more strength, more ability, more stuff, more beauty, more influence, and more power—more. More—without exception—always more.
Of course, this point of view denies reality, and at its core forms a system of wishful thinking. In unavoidable reality, life—and work, and love itself—is a process of both gain and loss, of both having and going without, of both achieving and failing, of both flourishing and fading away, an experience of increase and decrease that lies beyond our control. We have choices, of course, that influence the increase and the decrease, but opting out of the process itself is not an option on life's menu.
The content of Yungblut’s paper (and the book of Ecclesiastes, as well) pivots around the challenge with which reality confronts us: we are born and we die, we laugh and we cry, we hate and we love, we build and we tear down. We must learn to live into and through this yin/yang process.
The culture, of course, recommends that we deny and disguise what we don’t like—cover the wrinkles with cosmetics, color the gray hair—buy more stuff even when there is less in the bank account—take performance-enhancing drugs when energy and strength grow less (being careful, of course, not to get caught officially while doing so.)
None of us are immune to occasional temptation to try this denial approach to the diminishment issue. But most of us know that it is not that simple. When we are polishing our glasses, replacing the batteries in our hearing aids, paying (reluctantly) for a new crown on a broken tooth, we are not practicing denial—we are celebrating the capacity and the means to compensate for loss, and celebrate the technology that makes this way of managing loss possible.
Compensation is not a synonym for denial. In fact, the first step in compensating for loss requires that loss (deficit) be acknowledged, no matter the cost to pride. For example, recently the technology to aid the hearing impaired has been made remarkably more effective. However, this technology has little value for those who continue to insist that there is nothing wrong with their hearing—they DO NOT have a hearing loss. The problem stems from people’s failure to speak clearly—or loudly—enough.
However, most of you, along with me, have a different question: how do we “hallow” the diminishments? How do we live through the losses and the diminishments of life in a manner that permits us to grow in grace and wisdom?
Is it possible to live into life’s inevitable emptying process in such a way that the resulting space becomes “hallowed”, i.e., set apart for special use? Is it possible that as the empty spaces grow that gain occurs simultaneously with the loss? If we do not have control of the emptying process, can we influence the consequence of diminishment?
Yungblut (and many others as well) believe that it is not only possible to do this, but that the responsibility to “hallow our diminishments” is one of the privileges and gifts of aging.
What do you think?
What have you already learned about managing life’s lessening processes and the losses that result?
As a child, I was taught a value system that included the rule: Be a good loser.
In this week’s blog (and—brace yourselves!!—perhaps in some following blogs as well) I want to think about “hallowing diminishments." Using my old childhood rule as the theme, I want to think with you how we can deal positively with the diminishment process--in other words, how we can learn to be good losers.
I do hope you are brave or patient enough—or both!—to think with me weekly.
Perhaps you will be motivated to work a bit on your own life plan.
If your present life logo reads: Win. Never lose. Get more, I hope these blogs will help you review it. Frankly, I think that program leads to a bad end. Considering a different one may well be worth your time.
See you next week.