RICH IN YEARS:
Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life
by Johann Christoph Arnold foreword by Tim Costello
(The Plough Publishing House, 161pp, $17.95, ISBN: 978-0-87486-800-5. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Hardly a week goes by without some news or current affairs story reminding us that with a falling birth rate and longer life expectancy, the proportion of older people in our society is increasing.
Johann Arnold, an American pastor, son of refugees from Nazi Germany, and author of numerous works, argues that Christians need to re-assess the place of the elderly not only within church groups and society but within the lives of younger people.
Instead of being seen as an inconvenient burden, the elderly should be seen as valued and integral members of society.
Arnold reminds his readers that until comparatively recent times, elders did not live alone, as they often do, in all too many instances as 'shut-ins' with minimal human contact.
Instead, as is the case in many cultures, the elderly live with their children or other relatives.
Traditionally seen as a font of wisdom due to their extensive experience and reflection about life and the human condition, Arnold argues that they should be accorded the respect in Western societies that they were formerly given.
He encourages younger people to spend time with the elderly, not only to make them feel valued and wanted members of society, but also to learn from them.
Arnold thus suggests that people should look for ways to support and assist the elderly in their communities, particularly those who live alone.
However, Arnold also encourages older members of the community to seek out opportunities to mentor and support younger members, such as grandchildren, particularly in the modern world when parents are often so busy.
This is one particularly important way the elderly can make a valuable contribution to society.
In reflecting on the role of the elderly, Arnold reminds readers that numerous biblical figures, such as Abraham and Moses, did the most significant things in their lives when they were elderly.
This is part of Arnold's broader advice for elderly people, namely to remain active. The danger for an older person, particularly those who have retired, is that they can adopt a sedentary and passive lifestyle too soon, with the consequence that it can accelerate the ageing process.
However, this needs to be balanced with a recognition and acceptance by the elderly that with ageing they cannot do everything they once did. Rather than being distressed by this, their focus should be on what they can do.
In dealing with the frail aged, particularly those who are suffering from some form of dementia, Arnold advises that instead of our expecting them to accept us on our terms, we need to accept them for who they now are on their terms.
As the elderly approach death, they should prepare for death, that is, for the meeting with their Maker.
A Protestant pastor, Arnold recommends auricular confession, arguing that confession of sins is not just for Catholics, but is an important means for Christians to experience the power of God's forgiveness and love.
An integral aspect of preparing for death is in seeking the forgiveness of those whom one has injured or harmed.
Rich in Years is a beautifully presented reflection on the valuable role of the elderly from a Christian perspective. Written from the perspective of a senior, this work is the product of much prayer and reflection and is as much a work for the elderly as for younger people.
Arnold's writing style is engaging, particularly the way in which he interweaves the various stories of friends and others he has known into his discourse.
Michael E Daniel is a regular contributor to AD2000 .