Today’s Word from Jerry R. O’Neill…
My rite of passage from midlife to elderhood has been more than ten years in the making. Trinity Lutheran has been a huge part of that journey. So it is with great joy that I can share songs, short poems, and intentions from my new book Called to be Alive! with the TLC community at Trinity Lutheran on Sunday, August 21st.
In January 2018, my wife, Carol, and I spent two weeks vacationing with Larry and Gayle (God bless her soul) on the island of Maui. One day Carol announced she was going to attend a beginners’ class on how to play the ukulele. I had been a rockin’ freestyle guitar player and singer from childhood. So, I was at first very cool on the idea of a ukulele. But truth be told, I was in something of a rut with my music and hadn’t done much new for years. I told Carol I would sit in the back of the class just to listen. Before the first class was over, I found my way to the front and was handed a sweet, little four-string tenor to play along. The spirit of the instructor, a lively woman in her mid-seventies, was contagious. We ended up buying two ukuleles to take home with us. Since then, I have traded up twice and added a Mele six-string baritone and a double-puka (two-hole) concert-size ukulele to my collection of musical instruments.
To my pleasant surprise, learning to play the ukulele in my older years has opened the way for me to experience a second maturity in the music I compose, sing, and record. Most of the songs included in this book have been written and recorded playing the uke. This fun, little instrument now plays a key role in my music, strong in the song of the sacred. Today I am energized to play and sing with renewed gusto for both the fun and the positive impact music has on the soul. And as much as anything else, I simply love the way a ukulele puts people at ease and makes them smile.
In the fall of 2018, I attended a Sage-ing International Conference in Chaska, Minnesota. I had first read Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller for a class at Seattle University several years before. With a few more years under my belt and after reading a number of other books on aging, I returned to this wise and inspiring guidebook with renewed interest. I took some classes online and learned more at the conference. Attending the conference had a profound effect on me and my view of aging. I returned home with the desire to become a spiritual elder.
In the spring of 2019, I poured over The Sage-ing Workbook based on Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s sage-ing principles. During the forty days of Lent that year, I carefully and prayerfully completed each of the exercises. All are designed to help harness the power of the Holy Spirit for deep inner work—harvesting the wisdom of my years, healing painful memories, finding my voice, and discerning my call in later life. By Easter I was ready to begin working earnestly to write a new book on later life in Christ, preparing to use the gifts of music and poetry.
In Called to Be Alive! I have turned to the practice of creative writing together with other contemplative arts like Lectio Divina, journaling, music, meditation, and forest bathing to help do the inner work necessary for me to navigate from midlife to elderhood. Deciding not to merely drift into my older years, I have embraced aging as a spiritual practice, by which I gain enlightenment and am enlivened for purposeful living. As a conscious elder, I am open and responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, meaningfully engaged more in soul than in any role for the completion of my life on earth.
While my career as a parish pastor has had a beginning and an end, I understand my vocation to service is lifelong.
In my book and at my “Called to be Alive!” concert on August 21 you will witness my sense of call in later life.
Stirred by God’s Wisdom, I will use my one small voice and a little stringed instrument to break into song. I hope you’ll attend the concert, acquaint yourself with my book and recordings, and prepare to sing along with me—later-life alive!
Later Life Alive!
A Sing & Chat Concert featuring new songs and poems by Jerry O’Neill
Sunday, August 21, 2022 at 7 pm
Followed by an ice cream and book signing reception