The aftermath of Irene
Elul: the season of reflection begins

Approaching a fall semester one last time

My fall semester begins tomorrow. I'm excited about the learning, though a little bit nervous about my ability to balance parenting a toddler, leading a congregation, working in my community, and taking classes again. Balancing parenting and congregational leadership has been a mostly-wonderful new experience for me; now I'm about to add another ball to the ones I'm already juggling.

But wait, you may be thinking: didn't she finish rabbinic school? Indeed yes, thanks be to God! But I'm also enrolled in the ALEPH Ordination Program in Hashpa'ah / Jewish Spiritual Direction Training, and two classes remain for me to complete before my second ordination, as a mashpi'ah, in January. One is a class in Bioethics; along with three classmates, I'll be taking a brief but intense tutorial exploring the essential elements of hashpa'ah as they intersect with bio-ethical issues. And the other is the class which begins tomorrow: Issues of Sage-ing in Hashpa'ah.

What's sage-ing? I'll let Reb Zalman explain:

We don't normally associate old age with self-development and spiritual growth. According to the traditional model of life span development, we ascend the ladder of our careers, reach the zenith of our success and influence in midlife, then give way to an inevitable decline that culminates in a weak, often impoverished old age. This is aging pure and simple, a process of gradually increasing personal diminishment and disengagement from life. As an alternative to inevitable senescence, this book proposes a new model of late-life development called sage-ing, a process that enables older people to become spiritually radiant, physically vital, and socially responsible "elders of the tribe."

That's from his book From Age-ing to Sage-ing (written with Ronald Miller), one of the primary texts we'll be reading this semester. (Other texts on the syllabus include Rabbi Dayle Friedman's Jewish Visions for Aging and Gene Cohen's The Mature Mind, both of which also look terrific.)

Reb Zalman's book comes with a set of questions at the back, intellectual and spiritual exercises to help the reader work through her own issues around aging, and as our assignment for the first Sage-ing class we were asked to do the first of these exercises. I found the experience fascinating. I hadn't thought through my own positive and negative associations with aging before this -- and writing about a day in my imagined ideal life as an elder opened up some surprising mental images and imagined possibilities.

Anyway: I'm doing my best not to write scripts about overwhelm during the coming months, but instead to focus on the tremendous blessing of getting to spend some time learning about these things with my beloved colleagues and teachers. One final semester as an ALEPH student. Here we go...