UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Quote Unquote

‘What is God already doing, and how can we co-operate?’

By David Giuliano


I am hanging out with older people more than I used to. After church recently, I found myself in conversations about arthritis, detached retinas, acid reflux, retirement plans and grandchildren, obviously. It struck me as a strange phenomenon. What’s with me and these older people? Then it hit me: I am older. Cherished words spoken by John Westerhoff then resurfaced in my increasingly unreliable memory.

Years ago, during a seminar, Westerhoff — theologian, priest and Christian formation scholar — stepped away from the lectern and said, “You know, we Christians are always asking the wrong question. We’re always asking what God wants us to do. The better question is, ‘What is God already doing, and how can we co-operate?’”

An excellent question at any stage of life and for every season of Advent: What is God doing, and how can I co-operate? I am starting to ask it as an old guy: eligible for the seniors’ discount on Thursdays at Shoppers Drug Mart, troubled eyes, a digestive system now disturbed by foods I used to consider friends. And I am once again walking the Camino de Cancer. My wife, Pearl, and I are empty nesters. We stand on the cusp of the third trimester of life, scratching our heads, wondering what God is doing.

The season of Advent — pregnant with anticipation — is generally the preserve of children and restive youth. Charles Dickens famously opined, “For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” An angel told a teenager what God was doing, and Mary co-operated.

Other than Mary and her baby, however, the story is inhabited by oldsters. By most accounts, Joseph was no spring chicken. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her old man Zechariah — both of them long in the tooth and well beyond their childbearing years — conceive. Righteous old Simeon clutches the baby Jesus in his gnarled and arthritic hands, his weak old heart beating for joy as he prophesizes to the baby’s mother.

The innkeeper — someone, I imagine, who’s thinking about turning the operation over to his kids and retiring in Florida — is compelled to make room for a new birth, for something transformative to happen, even if it is only out back in the stable of his life.

The magi are not on a gap-year road trip in search of meaning. They are wise elders who, after years of astrological studies, set out on a journey that is the culmination of their life’s work.

Were the shepherds young, or have we just seen too many Sunday school pageants cast with crook-wielding boys in housecoats? Tinfoil halos and cute-as-a-button winged tots to the contrary, the “multitude of heavenly host” are ageless, are they not?

The young and faithful often ask, “What new thing is God doing in my life?” and “How can I best co-operate?” As we age, we are tempted to settle, to lower our expectations. We can become nostalgic about the past and resist the inevitability of the future. We swap adventure for a good bed. We keep an eye on our mutual funds. We become preoccupied with safety. We golf. We are pretty sure our first grandchild is the Messiah.

And those of us walking the trail of mystery are also pleasantly surprised by a niggling feeling that the One Love isn’t done with us. We contemplate what might bring meaning to life as we age. We begin to ask what God is doing — in our aches and wisdom and freedom — and how can we co-operate? That, it seems to me, is the spiritual task of Advent at every age.

Very Rev. David Giuliano is a former United Church moderator and a minister with St. John’s United in Marathon, Ont.



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image