Press-Republican

September 24, 2008

Dr. Richard Johnson reveals 12 Keys to spiritual vitality

Lecturer looks at aging from spiritual perspective

By ROBIN CAUDELL

PLATTSBURGH -- Attitude impacts how one ages, according to lecturer Dr. Richard Johnson.

Johnson, of the Johnson Institute for Maturing Adult Faith Formation and Spiritual Gerontology in Wildwood, Mo., and a nationally recognized pioneer in his field, lectured recently at a "Well, Wise and Whole" workshop at Plattsburgh State.

The event was co-sponsored by the Clinton County Office for the Aging and the Eastern Adirondack Health Care Network.

He also lectured on the "Twelve Keys to Spiritual Vitality" at St. Peter's Church. The birth of Jesus Christ was the first grand experiment, he said. The second is the increased longevity of people in the United States.

"This fact is ripping through our culture in ways we are just beginning to appreciate," Johnson said. "How are we going to take care of all these elders? The question is, Will we listen to what's in the hearts and minds of our more mature residents?'"

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

There are diverse views of when the aging or maturation process begins, he said.

"I'm told at birth. When our father's sperm slammed into our mother's egg. What happens at every birthday? Your odometer clicks. You get a new number. What does that mean? It's chronological. It tells you the amount of times you have circumnavigated the sun. What does this mean, that number you think is so meaningful? We think it has so much to say about our personality and life. If you believe anything else about that number, that may be your problem.

"You're invested too much in numbers."

At some point in life, he said, many people want to halt this natural process that culminates in ashes-to-ashes, dust-to dust utterances. Scientifically what is happening is oxidation and combustion.

"As you are sitting there, you are rusting out and burning up. Physically, we're built to wear out."

Johnson cited a sociologist who claimed "aging is a senseless slippage into nothingness."

"If you don't have a speck of faith, that's exactly what aging could be. ... You want to see this thing called aging in a different way."

Americans life is an ageist culture, he said.

"We fear the process of aging. We run away from the aging process. We're deathly afraid of it. What are the facts that allow you to do this thing called aging well? How do you live well in your later years? We need a new way of looking at this thing called aging. I call it the 12 Keys to Spiritual Vitality. You want to be youthful in your later years, be spiritual in your later years."

FINDING WISDOM

"Aging, from a Christian perspective, is part of the living water," Johnson said. "We define it as the movement of spirit within. As we mature, our spiritual pace quickens."

He described it as a feeling, sensitivity, a silent wind that ripples.

"All these coincidences in your life are messages from God. It makes you more aware of something transcending psychology and sociology. It's a transpersonal happening in your life.

"What would happen if you saw aging not in physical terms but spiritual terms? In fact, the purpose of the later years, is to increase your communion with God."

Advances in clean water, sewer systems, medicine food and self care have all contributed to people living 90 years and beyond. The question Johnson poses is "Why does the Holy Spirit want us to live longer?"

"Wisdom. We're supposed to become wiser. We as mature adults become the reservoir of wisdom on the planet. We as mature adults have to embrace this role."

From his studies on who lives long and why, Johnson has learned that if people "retire," they will get emotionally and psychological sick, which results in physical illness.

"Maturation is not about the body. It's about you. Are you your body? What are you supposed to be learning as a consequence of this process? Every day, everyone goes around the sun. There is a purpose to it."

He said aging is not a thief in the night. Aging is a master teacher.

"Aging teaches wisdom," Johnson said. "The people who don't age well are seeking love everywhere. There's no place where love (God) isn't."

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com