Fearing our own maturity

Father Raymond Brown, the noted Scripture scholar, once suggested that perhaps his maturity had stripped him of some of the poetry of his boyhood.

Our bodies and our souls each have their separate aging process, and they aren't always in harmony. Thus, T.E. Laurence, in “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” makes this comment about someone:

"He feared his maturity as it grew upon him, with its ripe thought and finished art, but which lacked the poetry of boyhood to make living a full end of life ... his rangeful, mortal soul was aging faster than his body, was going to die before it, like most of ours."

I suspect that all of us, at some level, fear growing into maturity. It's not so much that we don't want to give up the habits of our youth or that we fear that the joys of maturity are second-best to the pleasures of youth. There is, I believe, a deeper reason: We fear, as Laurence puts it, that our maturity will strip us of the poetry of our youth and make us old before time. What's meant by that?

We sometimes speak of an old soul inside a young person, and this is meant both as a compliment and a criticism, perhaps more the latter. We sometimes look at a young person whose body is full of life and overfull with energy and see a precociousness of soul that belies that youth and energy and we can't help wondering whether that premature maturity isn't inhibiting the life-principle. And so we have a mixed reaction: What a mature young person! But is his or her life too grey and sterile before its time?

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of a comment that Father Raymond Brown once made in a class. The context of his remark is important. This was not the comment of a young man still looking to leave a mark on life, but rather the comment of a very mature, successful, and respected man who was the envy of his peers. Nearly 70 years old, wonderfully mature, universally respected for everything from his scholarship to his personal integrity, he was a mature soul.

And still his comment betrayed the subtle fear that perhaps his maturity had stripped him of some of the poetry of his boyhood. His comment was something to this effect:

You know when you reach a certain age, as I have now, and you look back on what you've done, you're sometimes embarrassed by some of the things you did in your youth, not immoral things, just things that now, from your present perspective, seem immature and ill-thought-out, things that you are now too wise to ever risk doing.

Recalling them, initially you are a little embarrassed. But then, in those moments where you feel your age and your present reticence, you sometimes look back and say: "That's bravest thing I ever did! Wow, I had nerve then! I'm much more afraid of things now!"

Jane Urquhart, the Canadian novelist, echoes this sentiment. Rereading one of her own books which she had written 20 years before, she comments:

"It is tremendously satisfying to be able to reacquaint myself with the young woman who wrote these tales, and to know that what was going on in her mind intrigues me still." What's unspoken in her comment is her present admiration (and dare I say, envy) for the poetry that once infused her younger self.

I had a similar feeling some years ago when, for a new release of my book, “The Restless Heart,” I was asked to update it. I'd written the book when I was still in my twenties, a lonely and restless young man then, partly looking for my place in life. Now, nearly 25 years later and somewhat more mature, I was sometimes embarrassed by some of the things I'd written all those years back.

But, like Raymond Brown, I marveled at my nerve back then, and, like Jane Urquhart, it was refreshing to reacquaint myself with the young man who had written that book, sensing that he had a livelier poetry and more verve in him than the older person who was rereading that text.

Some of us never grow up. The body ages, but the soul remains immature, clinging to adolescence, fearful of responsibility, fearful of commitment, fearful of opportunity slipping away, fearful of aging, fearful of our own maturity and, not least, fearful of death. This is not a formula for happiness, but one for an ever-increasing fear, disappointment and bitterness in life.

Not growing up eventually catches up with everyone, and what judged as cute at 20, colorful at 30, and eccentric at 40 becomes intolerable at 50. At a certain age, even poetry and verve don't compensate for immaturity. The soul, too, must grow up.

But, for some of us, the danger is the opposite. We grow old before our time, becoming old souls in still young bodies, mature, responsible, committed, able to look age, diminishment and mortality square in the eye, but devoid of the poetry, verve, color and humor which are meant to make a mature person mellow and alive, like a finely-aged old wine.

 

Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology. His website is www.ronrolheiser.com.


Voices

‘Digging a well together’

Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI

Christian de Cherge, the Trappist Abbott who was martyred in Algeria in 1996, was fond of sharing this story: He had a very close Muslim friend, Mohammed, and the two of them used to pray together, even as they remained aware of their differences as Muslim and Christian.  

Aware too that certain schools of thought, both Muslim and Christian, warn against this type of prayer out of a sense that the various faiths are not praying to the same God, the two of them didn’t call their sessions together prayer. Rather they imagined themselves as “digging a well together.”

 

 

Together in Mission 300x250

Events

January 2015
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

January 30, 2015

  • Friday, January 30

    Casino Nights, Dinner: 6-8 p.m., Casino and Dancing: 7 p.m.-2 a.m., Casa Lopez, 325 South A Street, Oxnard. $50, 21 & over only. Call Edith for tickets, (805) 377-0968.

    Mass and Healing Service, Praise & Worship: 7 p.m., Mass: 7:30 p.m., Mary Star of the Sea Church, 877 7th St., San Pedro. Healing service following Mass. (310) 833-3541.

    “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy,” 7 p.m., Holy Name of Mary Church, 724 E Bonita Ave., San Dimas. A live multimedia drama with a modern message of mercy. $20 suggested donation. For tickets and more information, Holy Name of Mary’s church office, (909) 599-1243 or email sacredheartssb@ymail.com.

    St. John Bosco Bicentenary Symphony Concert, 8 p.m., Saint Dominic Savio Church, 13400 Bellflower Blvd., Bellflower. Conducted by Dean Anderson, featuring harpist Lucas Cantor. $10. (562) 920-7796.

     

Catholic Extension 300x100

Get our news by email

The Holy Father visits the Holy Land
Bob Smith BMW 300x250
Bob Smith Toyota 300x250
Bob Smith Mini 300x250