I admit, I too suffer from a dominant-culturally trained vanity and don’t like being considered a “crone” or “elderly” because of my chronological age. I would hope that I am more like a “sage” and an “elder” than the stereotyped disgruntled, grouchy old person. I do hurt a little when walking in some busy, public place I see the eyes of those in their teens, twenties, and even thirties slide by me with indifference because I am too old to be of interest.
I try not to subject myself to the advertising in the dominant culture’s media, which emphasizes the profitable commodity of the vigor and physical beauty of youth (or at least the appearance of it), disregarding the value of maturing physically, experientially, and psychospiritually. It is distressing to know so many of mainstream society’s elderly (due to financial and family factors) are condemned to the undesirable and sometimes hidden margins of society, living in situations that are not nourishing, empowering, or health-promoting.
I am blessed to live and thrive in the culture of a spiritually-based intentional community I co-founded more than thirty years ago. I feel valued and vigorous. It does not matter if I look my age or am considered “older” because I feel respected and loved by my very large, extended family of community members, and I think that most of those who are older in the community would concur with me.
While being 50+ years of age is considered being an “elder” for some, we who are members of the church and spiritual educational organization of Global Community Communications Alliance (GCCA) and live at Avalon Organic Gardens & EcoVillage have another understanding of the concept of “elder.” Eldership implies not only the number of years an individual has lived on this earth, it also indicates the psychospiritual maturity, wisdom, experience, and leadership abilities of a soul. In that sense, I have been considered an “elder” from the beginning of the formation of GCCA I co-founded at the ripe old age of 39.
At this time Global Community Communications Alliance (GCCA) has a team of spiritual Elders of ten individuals, ranging in age from the mid 70s to early 50s. We also have another level of spiritual leadership or eldership that includes twenty-four additional members who are ordained ministers ranging in ages from the mid 80s to the early 20s. So, eldership in this context is not necessarily confined to chronological age, though years of life experience is definitely a determiner.
From the very beginning of the formation of GCCA, the emphasis for joining had nothing to do with chronological age but with a sense of spiritual calling or mission that inspired an individual to consider becoming part of this particular enterprise of community building and living within divine pattern. In those beginning days, two of our more stable and permanent members were in their late 50s when they joined, but we had many in their early 20s as well as in their middle ages.
What we discovered is that the “staying power” had more to do with an individual feeling that he or she had a purposeful place in the community, feeling valued as a unique person, and willing to experience the rigorous discipline of community building and soul building. Understandably, more of those in their middle and elder years “stayed” for the long run of creating and maintaining a religious order of missionaries, thus providing a more stable foundation for those younger to join a few years later. At times, youth—in its impetuousness and wanderlust—has enticed those chronologically younger to leave our community before really rooting themselves in the solid foundation of life within the circles of a village and extended religious family, in contrast to those with more years under their belts, who seem to ride the waves of life’s ups and downs with more balance and “staying power”.
Snapshots of Elders
In relation to the chronological age of being an elder, there have been many in our community who I have admired over the years. Olga emigrated from Germany at age 82 to join GCCA. She had lived her whole life as a single person, traveling around the world, working in a profession until retirement, and pursuing personal spiritual expansion. She lived with us for ten years before passing on in our community hospice.
Up to the last couple of months of her life Olga insisted on having “jobs” to do. When asked how she could make such a drastic change in her life at the age of 82—leaving her native country where she lived an independent and very quiet life to be in a communal situation in another country—Olga stated she was not done living yet and she couldn’t really “live” in the culture she was in and desired the spiritual life of a religious order. So, after approximately a year of correspondence with GCCA, she moved to become a part of this community, attending two weekly evening classes of spiritual studies in The University of Ascension Science and the Physics of Rebellion (UASPR), daily prayer and meditation with those in her community home, and working approximately four hours a day in various functions, including being a translator.
I think of others who joined GCCA in their “twilight” years—people who had retired from their life-long jobs (single as well as couples) and who indicated they did not want to be “put out to pasture” or live a marginal life with mainly other older people, separated from other age groups and trans-generational activities. Each one of these souls did not think they were done growing psychospiritually and wanted to continue expanding intellectually and spiritually, as well as learning new skills in their service to humankind.
Some of them were in great physical health when first joining and then eventually declined physically as they aged. Others came with many health problems, and though most claim that their health has greatly improved, there have been the few whose physical health continues to deteriorate quickly, requiring much physical care from other religious-order members as well as many trips to their physicians located in nearby towns and cities.
There have been those few who were initially very excited about living in a spiritually-based community, which encouraged continued psychospiritual growth and provided opportunities for meaningful work and loving socialization with people of all ages. However, as the months passed (and for one it was years), for whatever reasons, they grew weary of living in GCCA and “retired” into mainstream society. Mostly though, those who joined GCCA as elders have remained and plan on passing on within the community hospice setting, of which there have already been several.
Recognizing the value and significance of aging individuals, after fifteen years of providing hospice care for our religious-order members, we established and operate Soulistic Hospice with a trained and certified team of community members and non-community members who assist elders (and their loved ones) in mainstream society in their transition time from this world. The at-home care and nurturing affords each older person to move into his or her graduation from this life with much dignity and peace.
Community member Marayeh, now in her mid 70s, is the Executive Director and Clinical Psychologist for Soulistic Hospice, and part of the hospice team includes other religious-order members who consider themselves as missionaries in service within the hospice field. Those missionaries who serve in Soulistic Hospice range from their teens to early 80s.
Beine was a widow of more than twenty years when she first contacted GCCA. She had suffered decades of depression and poor physical health and had lived alone since the death of her husband. She was geographically apart from her four grown children and several grandchildren, as well as also relationship-wise separated from two of those children and their families.
She initially stayed in the community for one week as a resident visitor, celebrating her 68th birthday during that first visit. About a month later she decided to join the community for a six-month initiate interim to investigate if living in this particular community would be a good fit. She was extremely grateful to have discovered a less lonely life.
Beine started out sharing a room with a woman a couple of years older than she then changed to having a roommate who was in her mid-twenties because both elders requested moving to a community home that had more young people, for they were tired of living in a home with mainly older persons. Interestingly, Beine’s new younger roommate had requested to live in a home that had more mature and older people because she felt she needed the stability that elders provided.
Beine had not worked for twenty years when she joined the community, but immediately asked to help out with the preschool- and primary-age children a couple of hours a day. Though she had some physical limitations, she was able to “work” with the children assisting in teaching four hours a morning as well as filling in where needed in the kitchen for an hour or two in the afternoons when physically able.
Cynthia joined GCCA at the age of 66. She entered an extended initiate program for one year before deciding to become a full-time missionary. She had been crippled with arthritis and other medical problems for many years before coming to live in the community and, while she never thought that her physical health really improved that much, she often stated that she was much happier and less lonely, though she felt she still needed emotional healing from events that happened to her in her childhood and youth. She wanted to live her last years in service to God, and passed on in spiritual peace a few years later.
Cynthia loved learning and was an avid student in the UASPR theology courses in which she participated and also tutored several young men who needed extra help in their studies. In addition, she taught individual piano lessons to several children and three adults and conducted six-week workshops on the life and music of certain composers of classical music. She even gave salsa dance lessons when it was discovered that in her younger years she danced the nights away. And she assisted almost daily in the community personnel office.
Almost all elders in GCCA pass on certain skills to interested younger people in the community. For many years, Phlon and Leo oversaw the vehicle mechanics area up into their early 70s, and several younger people apprenticed under them, learning to maintenance cars, trucks, and tractors. One was a “jack-of-all-trades” in constant demand to assist others in repairing coolers, washing machines, electrical wiring, and so on. He also was a wonderful liaison with the larger community outside of GCCA, interacting with other jacks-of-all-trades to swap ideas about challenging repair problems. Though both of these men have “moved on”, the young ones who learned under them carry on.
Elinsa joined GCCA at 64 years of age and worked in various areas, including part-time in Global Family Legal Services, an outreach program for GCCA, using her experience of living in Latin America for many years and bilingual skills in serving many of the Spanish-speaking clients who come in to see the attorney, Celinas, who is now in her early 70s. Though Elinsa is now in her early 80s she continues to serve where she can, including tutoring adults who want to upgrade their reading and writing skills and assisting in the UASPR library.
Clistine, who had been an active community member for more than twenty years when she passed in her mid 80s, was the coordinator for the younger children’s educational programs—nursery, preschool, and primary school. She trained younger people interested in becoming educators and assisted them in their curriculum planning and writing. She also was the music director for the community’s forty-person choir that performs in the surrounding area. Clistine wrote several books and for many years directed a community theater troupe, blessing others with her rich dance and theatrical experiences and training, including graduating from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. She taught creative writing and often read her poetry at open-mic and poetry-reading events. And she was an instructor in the UASPR.
At 62 years old Spectra emigrated from Australia to join GCCA and continued her nursing skills as a volunteer in the community and with a physician who served not only community members but also patients in the neighboring area. Many have benefited from her loving ministry when they were ill, and she has always been there for our community hospice.
As a child in Holland, she suffered from T.B. of the bone and spent a couple of years in the sanatorium before it closed down due to the Second World War that came to Spectra’s doorstep. She was crippled with a damaged hip because of her childhood illness, but that never slowed Spectra down. Most in the community have enjoyed her stories of her life as a child in Holland as well as of her family’s immigration to Australia and her new life in that wild country as a young woman.
From the time she arrived, Spectra has played “grandma” to many of the little children, and now in her 80s she has slowed down due to her increasing physical limitations and can often be seen sitting on a porch of one of the community homes with two to five little children sitting with her as she reads to them or serves them snacks or teaches them sewing and mending.
LenMana, who had been on a path of spiritual realization for decades before joining GCCA in her late 40s continues in her late 70s to oversee the curriculum development and teacher training for the various children’s programs. She is also active in the church choir and teaches a course in the UASPR.
Kaylis has an interesting story of fleeing as a teenager the Bolsheviks who were occupying her country of Latvia during World War II. She walked through several countries to reach safety and eventually immigrated to the United States where she lived a quiet life, working in her home for her husband’s business. In her pursuit of spiritual expression, she heard the call in her early 60s to join GCCA, and, after several months of correspondence, acquired a car and for the first time drove by herself across the country to become part of the community, where at 88 years of age she is still active in studying in the UASPR and serving where she can in the ministry.
There are other elders who have given so much of themselves for the enrichment of others’ lives and who themselves have been enriched by living in this religious-order community. I know that actively living in any true community is a win-win situation, whether the community is an extended biological family, a church group, a religious order, a neighborhood, or some other type of intentional community.
One of the great losses of our modern (and often materialistic and shallow) society is the discarding of the elderly. In addition, the great rise in “assisted living” and other “homes” for the elderly continues to further foster the separation of the oldest and often wisest generation of living humans from those younger and often still groping generations who are to inherit the mantle of world operations. What a tragedy, to rob both young and old of the pleasure and myriad benefits of shared lives with one another. I personally feel blessed to be part of a worldwide movement of intentional communities creating cultures that value people of all ages—from 1 to 99.
Niánn Emerson Chase