The process of aging is complex and at times beyond our understanding. We lament the dichotomy between body and spirit. The body is becoming older but it is also something wonderful and beautiful when the spirit makes up for our body’s frailty in surprising ways.
My wife just spent three months in the Middle East looking to her 90+ mother’s care, and advocating with the health care system for some kind of elder care that is over and above the attentions the family can provide. She came back sad and depressed. As they say, it is often darkest before dawn, and behind every cloud is a silver lining.
We are getting frequent updates attesting to just how well her mom is doing. She has found herself among old and familiar friends and neighbours in the same state, doddering about in wheel chairs and some not the people they used to be, apparently. Upon seeing one familiar and former neighbour, my mother in law exclaimed...“My, she has gotten OLD!”
That brought some mirth from the family, but it underlies a great truth. What goes on in the body and what goes on in our mind are not the same thing. My mother in law’s mind is not at the best. She mistakes one daughter for another, she forgets where she is, and is not that talkative. I imagine on some level she is conscious of her decline and does not want to give herself away, or to cause worry.
My mother in law is not the kind of person you would pick out in a crowd. She spent her entire life playing a support role in the business of family life, her husband making the decisions. My mother in law’s best trait; she is agreeable and when situations do not allow for this, she bends. She is graceful. When I showed up at the gate courting their daughter she never turned me away though she likely could have found many reasons to mistrust the situation. I was consistently met with a smile and told, “Tfaddel”, meaning “welcome”. No doubt I was a burden but she never complained. Later on, in stints staying with us, my mother in law also shilled for me when my wife took me to task. My wife didn’t like it very much. It made me smile.
If you are in Nazareth very long, you will hear the call to prayer from the local mosque. In the tradition of some from the community, they are summoned to give up their duty to God in a timed fealty that must be demonstrated five times a day. Such demands are expected with the Muslims, their relationship with God does not allow for much grace. Their duty comes from fear and obligation, hoping that God will be merciful with the many displays of piety.
Not so however with my mother in law. You could imagine that a geriatric might be bad at remembering what they have to do, so it is fortunate that the heart clicks in.
The call to prayer might be one of the most primal aspects of a human being. It goes beyond the mental and the physical, it recognizes something else altogether, the great mystery of a God who bodes relationship. Our God calls to us from the heart, and it is something beyond our level of understanding.
The report my wife is getting these days is a happy one. Today she showed me again, a video of her mom, who cannot remember her daughters’ names, remembering her God. She prays flawlessly, recalling every word without skipping a beat. It is something beautiful to behold, and lets us gently understand that she is approaching a mystery of transcendence, those things we don’t often think about in the day to day, but will govern our entry and departure from this world nonetheless.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, it was in the familiar address of “Father” or if you prefer, “Dad”. When Jesus conflated his existence with God in the book of John, the Pharisees were furious and called it blasphemy. He stated, that before Abraham was, “I am”. We see this co-substantial status affirmed at the end of times in John’s Revelation, when the angels bow down and worship the Father and the Son. Yes it’s the end but it’s not really the end. That’s the good news.
My mother in law seems to understand that her God is calling out to her. Accordingly, she is praising her God, maybe a bit early but also right on time. It is something that puts the heart to rest and shows us that worries notwithstanding all is perfectly as it should be.