A Biblical Meditation on Aging


It’s that time of year again. I embark this week on my journey back to my boyhood home to spend the summer on the farm taking care of my Dad. Since 1981 I have lived in Texas. When I retired in 2014, my wife and I bought the house I grew up in from my parents. Mom had passed two years prior and she had always wanted my wife and me to buy the house — she wanted the peace of mind that it would remain in the family. At that point in time, Dad had been living with Parkinson’s Disease for 10 years. His mobility was diminishing but he could still live at home. Two years later, in March 2016, we had to move him into a nursing home. We are blessed in that it is only a mile from our house and sits on 100 acres of beautiful grounds. The facility is a former convent and still has a strong connection to the Catholic Church. Many aging nuns and priests are there and daily mass is offered, along with exceptional health care. Yet, Dad is failing. I can’t believe he has lived with Parkinson’s as long as he has. He is 90 now, and not only is a physical wreck, but is starting to fail mentally. That is probably all detail that you didn’t need but it gets me to the point of this post: this beautiful reflection on the book of Ecclesiastes.

Monsignor Charles Pope begins his reflection:

Last week in the Office of Readings we concluded the Book of Ecclesiastes. One of the more beautiful passages in the Old Testament is the 12th Chapter of Ecclesiastes. It is a melancholy but soulful meditation on old age. Its poetic imagery is masterful, as it draws from the increasingly difficult effects of old age such as hearing loss, fading eyesight, difficulty walking, digestive issues, and even gray hair.

This is the passage he breaks open for us:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come And the years approach of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them; Before the sun is darkened. and the light, and the moon, and the stars, while the clouds return after the rain; When the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, And the grinders are idle because they are few, and they who look through the windows grow blind; When the doors to the street are shut, and the sound of the mill is low; When one waits for the chirp of a bird, but all the daughters of song are suppressed; And one fears heights, and perils in the street; When the almond tree blooms, and the locust grows sluggish and the caper berry is without effect, Because man goes to his lasting home, and mourners go about the streets; Before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, And the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the broken pulley falls into the well, And the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, all things are vanity! (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)

On my first quick read through this passage, I wondered what all the fuss was about. But when I got to the end of his exegesis it helped me to understand the suffering my father has endured. Please go read the full article if you have elderly family or friends for whom you care.

I plan on sharing this with Dad and reading it to him this summer and I hope that it helps him to cope with his final days.

Somebody understands. God understands.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator

    Thanks for sharing that, and the information about your father.

    I get the part about caper berries, thanks to some help from a Google search. And I also looked up almond tree phenology to get an idea what that is all about. There is a lot of good imagry in that passage, but one part I don’t get is, “the grinders are idle because they are few,” because it seems to go counter to the law of supply and demand. If you and your father figure it out, let us know.  

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  2. Elisabeth Inactive

    @TheReticulator, I believe it’s referring to teeth–there are few teeth left in old age, and so they can’t grind the food.


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  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator

    Elisabeth (View Comment):

    @TheReticulator, I believe it’s referring to teeth–there are few teeth left in old age, and so they can’t grind the food.

    Oh. Thanks!

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  4. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch


    No poet ever dreamed of besting Ecclesiastes, but as my dad lay dying I read T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker” to him. To my mind, the Four Quartets are among the deepest and most profound meditations on the theme’s offered by Quoholeth ever written. As for you and your dad, these words might bring a bit more comfort:

    Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
    The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
    Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
    Isolated, with no before and after,
    But a lifetime burning in every moment
    And not the lifetime of one man only
    But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
    There is a time for the evening under starlight,
    A time for the evening under lamplight
    (The evening with the photograph album).
    Love is most nearly itself
    When here and now cease to matter.
    Old men ought to be explorers
    Here or there does not matter
    We must be still and still moving
    Into another intensity
    For a further union, a deeper communion
    Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
    The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
    Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

    As the Jews say, Go with God…

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  5. EODmom Coolidge

    @scottwilmot – Parkinson’s is such a difficult disease, and the treatment brings so many of its own challenges. Thank you for your revealing and open hearted note. It feels like an intrusion to a time full of grace for your family, but we wish you many hours of grace with your father. Your love for him and deep connection with him sing out. As @mikerapkoch says- Go with God. 

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  6. Hypatia Inactive

    I wish you and your father the best and the greatest peace and comfort.  But I prefer “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

    When my father was  in the hospital in his final illness, some Presbyterian preacher we knew kept leaning  over him and  saying, “Nunc dimittis, muh frayund, nunc dimittis!”  (On top of everything else,  he had one o’ they dorky Southern accents.)

    I wanted  to hit him.

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  7. colleenb Member

    Taking a class from Msg. Pope through Institute of Catholic Culture.  He is great.  By the way, today’s Psalm reading (Ps. 90) about ageing is a bit bracing.  Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong, and most of them are fruitless toil, for they pass quickly and we drift away.

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