A Deeper and Final Generativity – Giving our deaths away
In his poem, The Holy Longing, Goethe suggests that there comes a time in your life when both
your perspective on life and your motivation for doing things changes radically.
In his words:
Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making
sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter,
now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are a butterfly and you are gone.1
Christian spirituality, except for a few parts of scripture, the theology of martyrdom, and the
writings of mystics, has not, until quite recently, reflected much on the question of what we are
meant to do after our retirement years: What lies beyond generativity as we normally define this?
How is the final season of our life meant to be one within which we integrate generativity with
Perhaps these questions were largely ignored within theology and spirituality, as indeed they
were too in the human sciences, because until very recently most people in fact died during their
generative years, while they were still trying to give their lives away. There was no need to
develop a spiritual vision for what lay beyond retirement. Today, as our life expectancy is ever-
increasing and many people are staying healthy and active long after their retirement, these
questions are taking on a new importance. What is the final stage of our lives meant to look like?
To summarize a lot of anthropology and spirituality in a few simple categories, it not over-
simplistic to say that there are three major stages of Christian discipleship: the struggle to get our
lives together, the struggle to give our lives away, and, ultimately, the struggle to give our deaths
away. But this last concept is largely foreign to us. How does one give his or her death away?
Henri Nouwen once suggested that there comes a time in life when the real question is no longer:
How can I live now so that my life still makes a contribution? Rather the question becomes: How
can I live now so that when I die my death is an optimal blessing to my family, my friends, the
church, and the world? 2
With those words he, in essence, defines what the final state of Christian discipleship asks of us,
namely that we give our deaths away as we once gave our lives away. But how do we do that?To answer that we turn to the passion and death of Jesus, a death we understand as redemptive,
as pouring out life-giving blood and water onto an entire planet, and a death we understand
precisely as Jesus’ last and greatest gift to us.
Thanks for the above to RonaldRolheiser.com
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