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In this issue...

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■ Ellen S. Jaffe in “Writing Your Way” explores writing in a journal as a creative writing practice central to reflective aging. Writing bears witness and attunes us to inner guides. Her practical exercises invite the reader to sit down with pen and paper for the joy of writing.

■ Nora Zylstra-Savage in “Tapestry of Your Life” reviews six alternative formats for writing memories of our lives, ranging from comprehensive life review and autobiography to selective focus on specific experiences or themes. The life circle exercise is offered as preliminary to choosing the appropriate format for one's own life story.

■ Paula Papky in “Writing in Groups” chronicles her own experiences with the ways in which individuals can grow in wonder, gratitude, imagery, and sense of community when writing together. She offers springboards for fast writing and underscores the value of reading one's fast writing aloud within the group.

■ Rhoda Neshama Waller in “Elder Wisdom: Walking the Path of Poetry” highlights how reading and writing poetry in a group can increase awareness, creativity, and community. Moreover, the multisensory heightened awareness of poetry spills over into greater appreciation of the present moment.

■ Karen Bannister in “Writing to Reclaim Identity” uses memoirs written by persons with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease to illustrate writing as a pathway to personal wholeness. Through journaling, the authors cited express their frustration, concerns about the future, and grief as well as work out solutions to everyday problems related to their progressive disease. Writing for publication creates new contributing roles – chronicler, educator, counselor, and advocate. Older individuals who cannot write their stories on their own can benefit from a writing friend to facilitate this path to spiritual growth – a unique service opportunity for writers.


They keep slipping away, the words.
Is it reverberate, or is it resonate;

Is this the beginning of the end,
the dreaded end
of not remembering, not knowing?

Will I know them, will they know me?
What to remember in this new time
of not knowing?
Will I be aware of not knowing
or will that also slip away, elude?

They call it dotage, second childhood
but childhood is fun, this is worry.
Will I roam, unlock the night door
and slip away
like my slipping words?

— Desiré Lyners Volkwijn



the word sits
poised to move
this word will tell you
what I need you to know
it is my word
i will speak it to you
wait with me until it comes

By Ellen B. Ryan

— Dorthi Dunsmore

Aging is a time for visiting the temple of our memory, integrating our life, and coming home to ourselves. Writing is a spiritual practice through which we can contemplate and abide and be drawn to a sense of purpose.

The experiences of aging call us to personal growth in wisdom and compassion. Changes in body, mind, daily responsibilities, and social contexts lead us to reflect on who we are now, who we have been, and who we are becoming.

Writing regularly in a journal can help us find our inner voice. This practice enhances many spiritual practices: paying attention, finding beauty, seeking truth, showing compassion, saying thanks, cultivating silence, reviewing life, and identifying purpose. The very act of writing is a creative expression which affirms our human spirit, connecting us with ourselves, those around us, the world around us and with our God. Writing about the highs and lows of our lives — past, present, and possible futures — gives us perspective, offers strategies to solve problems, reveals feelings we might not otherwise have recognized, and helps us move from "Why me?" to "Why not me?" Journaling usually combines reflection and decisions for action — in the domain of writing and beyond.

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You will find poems and excerpts from poems sprinkled generously throughout the many articles in this issue. The anthology which is the source of most of these poems — Celebrating Poets over 70 — was published in October 2010. In the final article in this series on Writing as a Spiritual Practice, Marianne Vespry  — who, along, with guest editor Ellen Ryan, co-edited the anthology — draws us into the anthology, selecting examples from its 12 themes — some more obviously age-relevant than others. The poets, many in their 80s and 90s, demonstrate across all themes how their writing practice moves them — and us — toward aging with spirit.


At times my outlook on the chances for survival of the earth as we know it has been very dark. What saves me from despair are people who are deeply aware of environmental crises and profoundly concerned about their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. Because they are aware and concerned, they continue in what I have come to see to see as “practices of hope”...

Remembrance as a Spiritual Practice

I enter the stillness at the core of the great heart of us all. Though the waters remain waters of unknowing, I sense in the unknown a presence of love and compassion, joy and peace... And I can say with Lady Julian of Norwich that “all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”



While redwing blackbirds
shriek protest
and spring-mad pig frogs
rumble amours,
I cross weathered boards
among nesting wasps to
reach the observation platform.

I peer across heat-wavering acres
of hyacinth-purpled marsh grasses
to open water where
hundreds of white birds flock.

Ibis posture and pluck at the fringe,
the ubiquitous gulls clatter.
At the center,

priestly barques—
rare white pelicans
with albino pink bills.

Even now, if I close my eyes,
I can see the pelicans alone;
they retrace luminous curves
on the tannin-stained pond.

Inexplicably they refigure
lost worlds:
  the journal stolen,
  the homestead burned,
  the friend dead—
phantom sacrifices
on a watery altar.

I see them through
time's unreliable glass,
focused then dispersed
like incense in the sun glare—
images of what I've loved
but cannot will to hold.

From The Sourdough Dream Kit: Poems by Nancy Corson Carter (Bellowing Ark Press:  Seattle, WA,  2003)

Walking Our Talk:
Prescriptions for Responsible Living

. . . powerful incentives to change are activated when our sense of the possible is expanded and we glimpse better, more fulfilling ways of living, grounded in a celebration of genuine community. . .

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Individual reprints of each of the four issues in the 2011 series on the Spirituality of Later Life are available from Amazon for $10 each. To access ordering information, click on the cover images below

Click for information on Second Journeys: The Dance of Spirit in Later Life Order Serving from Spirit from Amazon.com Order Rites of Passage into Elderhood from Amazon.com Order The Inner Work of Eldering from Amazon.com Order Writing as a Spiritual Practice from Amazon.com

Second Journeys: The Dance of Spirit in Later Life, published in 2013, is also available from Amazon for $20. Its essays along with the many poems scattered throughout the anthology — the contributions of 44 writers and poets — explore the “dance of spirit in later life.” New essays companion earlier essays from Second Journey’s 2011 exploration of The Spirituality of Later Life. All four sections contain a tribute to an elder whose life has been emblematic, each concludes with an Invitation to Practice. Interspersed throughout, authors who have been our virtual partners in the work of birthing a new vision of aging for our time offer reflections on the books from which they have drawn sustenance. Dip into this rich collection at any point and you will find yourself drawn to linger and reflect. For further about the anthology, click on the center cover.