More About Ripening as We Age

James Finley shares his thoughts on spiritual maturity as a form of ripening:

We ripen in holiness and spiritual fulfillment as we learn to sit in the sun of God’s mysterious, sustaining presence that energizes and guides our efforts, bringing us to realms of grace that are beyond, way beyond, anything we can achieve by our own efforts alone. . . .

The lifelong process of ripening brings about a corresponding ripening of our ability to understand the fundamentals in a wiser, peace-giving manner. . . . As a person ripens in unsayable intimacies in God, they ripen in a paradoxical wisdom. They come to understand God as a presence that protects us from nothing, even as God unexplainably sustains us in all things. This is the Mystery of the Cross that reveals whatever it means that God watches over us; it does not mean that God prevents the tragic thing, the cruel thing, the unfair thing, from happening. Rather, it means that God is intimately hidden as a kind of profound, tender sweetness that flows and carries us along in the intimate depths of the tragic thing itself—and will continue to do so in every moment of our lives up to and through death, and beyond.

As fruit ripens, it fulfills itself in reaching its full potential to nurture us and give us pleasure. We might say that, as fruit ripens, it fulfills itself in giving itself to us. In a similar way, we do not undergo the transformative process of ripening for ourselves alone, but rather that our transformed presence might be a source of nurture to others.

Then too, there is the fruit that, in remaining unharvested, falls onto the ground and dies. The lesson here is in Jesus’ words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it brings forth fruit a hundred fold, a thousand fold” (John 12:24).

And so it is with us. As we grow old we realize that, in all we have been through, Love has been using us for its own purposes. And for this we feel immensely grateful. We know, too, that our inevitable passing away, in which we fall into the ground and die, is not the end of our ripened and transformed life. It is rather our passage into an infinite and deathless fulfillment. Saint John of the Cross [1542–1591] talks about a windfall of delight. [1] When fruit becomes very ripe, the slightest wind can cause it to fall to the ground. This is also true of us, and not just in the sense in which we learn to be undone and fulfilled in all the unexpected little blessings that come to us throughout the day. The windfall of delight pertains as well to our last breath, which we know and trust will send us falling forever into the deathless depths of God.

Eileen: I have shared this story before, but I think it can help when we are suffering and old age often has lots of that. When traveling in several countries in Europe in a wheelchair, I experienced purposefully cruel prejudice not just from skin heads, but from even obviously middle-class, middle-aged women. There were no handicapped bathrooms in those countries except the airports and McDonalds. This was thirty years ago, so hopefully this has changed. But back then handicapped people were kept inside away from public view. At one point I was feeling extremely sad and hurt when in a crowded Cathedral filled with silver and gold. My husband wanted to take photos and my son wanted to climb to the top of the dome, so they looked for a place to park me out of the crowds. We found a dark empty corner and I stayed there out of the way. They were gone a long time and I began to feel even sadder there alone. I looked around over the crowd for Jesus on the Cross, but only saw the gold tabernacle and statues and lavish decorations. Finally, I looked up behind me in the dark corner and there was a life-sized Jesus on the cross. I experienced an incredible sense of his presence and love and realized that he is with us in all our suffering and times of despair. We are never alone. And whatever anyone does to others, they do to Jesus also. Suffering is a difficult mystery of life, but there is grace for the journey, when we realize we are never alone in it. The Love of God, Jesus, is in it with us.

About Eileen

Mother of five, grandmother of nine, great-grandmother of five. 1955 -1959 Rice University in Houston, TX. Taught primary grades; Was Associate Post Director of Religious Education at Ft. Campbell, KY; Consultant on the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, Was married for 60 years to an Architect in Middle Tennessee.

Posted on September 22, 2022, in Love and Suffering. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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