Still Praying After All These Years: Meditations for Later Life represents the fulfillment of promises I made as a chaplain to nursing home residents who were participants in a small-group process called Arts and Spirit. In these groups, I invited participants to use musical instruments and movement props to interpret James Weldon Johnson’s richly imaged sermon “The Creation.” This improvisational activity segued into topical conversation reflecting on themes sounded in the sermon. Some of those topics included loneliness, continuing avenues for creativity and contribution in situations of limit, and spiritual resources found helpful in later life.
I took notes on these lively conversations and then created a written piece to hand back to group participants at the next session, in which their ideas and comments were represented, but reconfigured as a prayer, reflection, litany, or poem. As one participant said:
At first, I expected that we’d be reading more passages from the Bible in our group, but rather than relying on someone else’s thoughts and experiences, you got us to express the prayers of our own hearts, coming out of our own experiences, and in the long run, that proved much more valuable.
There was a strong sense of the movement of God’s spirit in these groups, both in the actual sessions, as participants dealing with a variety of late life challenges indirectly provided ministry to one another, and in the residual impact of sharing at such a deep level. One man described his experience this way:
Some nights I can’t sleep and I lie awake, and do you know what I think about? I think about this group. And then, when I finally fall asleep, I dream about this group. I must be holy!
At the end of the six-week session, participants were given a complete booklet of their collected works. Often, someone in the group would urge me to find a way to publish a book that would contain their reflections, as a way of supporting others who might be in their position someday. Other group members heartily supported this suggestion.
While those reflections are not being shared in their original form, in this book, I have lifted from among them some of the most compelling, poignant, amusing, and profound ideas, using them as springboards for each of the 52 meditations. Given the age of many of the participants at the time these groups took place (1996–2003), it is unlikely that they are still alive, but I hope through these springboards and the meditations that flow from them, you might still hear their wisdom, appreciate their emotional honesty, sense their deep faith, and find nourishment for your own journey in aging.
Susan Carol Scott is self-employed in private practice as a spiritual director, retreat leader, and supply preacher. An ordained clergyperson in the United Church of Christ, Susan is authorized by her judicatory for specialized ministry as a healthcare chaplain and spiritual director. She is board certified with the Association of Professional Chaplains.