Through the Cracks


I take these thoughts about my time in life from two sources. I am finding that retirement includes, whether I like it or not, an ongoing process of life review. I conduct that review in quiet moments and even in my dreams, going back to episodes in my life that felt good but also to incidents of embarrassment over what was or regret for what might have been.

My first source grabbed me as I started reading another in a series of mystery novels my wife thought I might enjoy. Not normally one to read mysteries, I must admit, as I begin my ninth in the series, that I have been enjoying them. The acknowledgments Louise Penny makes in prefacing her Chief Inspector Gamache novel, How the Light Gets In, include her gratitude to Leonard Cohen for his poem/song, “Anthem,” from which she has taken the book’s title. These are the four lines she quotes that have stuck in my mind, attaching to my thoughts about my retirement and my time in life:

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

My second source is the unnamed messenger students of the Bible call the Prophet of the Exile or Second Isaiah because his crying out to Judah’s exiles in Babylon is preserved in Isaiah, chapters 40-55. There was surely for his listeners the sense that their lives and their shared life as a people lay in the past cracked and broken.

It would be maudlin and downright pathetic for me to suggest my retirement corresponds to the Babylonian exile of the Jews. It does not. My present life is far too good and pleasant for such a comparison. That said, however, retirement does raise the life question, “What remains for me to be and do?” Chronologically, most of my life is in the past. Career, too, is a thing of the past even though the call to serve does not end with career.

I must do some interpreting of the prophetic word if I am to hear it as spoken to me. The prophet uses a metaphor of God’s care for an individual to promise God’s ongoing care for and relationship with the covenant people, Israel. To hear the promise spoken personally to me, I must reverse the metaphor and believe God’s covenant love embraces individuals within the people. I do so believe.

Until your old age I shall be the same,
until your hair is grey I shall carry you.
As I have done, so I shall support you,
I myself shall carry and shall save you.
(Isaiah 46:4 in the New Jerusalem Bible)

So, I hear a call: to ring the bells that still can ring. I never imagined my offering to be perfect, but now even my dreams remind me of just how many cracks life and I made in it. But maybe Cohen is right. That’s how the light gets in.

A Symbol for Retirement


Entering my third year of retirement, I realized that I have been searching for some way to gain perspective on this time in my life – a lens through which to view it or a symbol to represent it and suggest meaning for it. What is retirement? Obviously, it began with the end of something: my forty-year career in pastoral ministry for which I had begun preparing, more or less, at age twelve when I first declared my intention to become a minister. So, on June 30, 2012, an approximately fifty-four year process in my life concluded, and my wife and I moved for the first time as a couple into a home of our own with no church next door and no church community in which we belonged.

My second-to-last sermon as a pastor I titled, “Called for Life.” The next Saturday, at a farewell picnic given for us by the congregation, my executive presbyter and friend presented me with a book, Called for Life. Something ended but not entirely, concluded but did not close. How am I to understand this paradox? My job was done but my work not finished? I had no appointments, no meetings scheduled, and no position in a local church. I became a “minister of the word” (as I was called at ordination) without a pulpit, a “minister of the word and sacrament” (as I was later renamed) without a communion table or baptismal font, a “teaching elder” (as I was most recently renamed) without a gathering of people with whom to pursue understanding.

I knew what I was retiring from, but what was I retiring to, or do we retire only from something but not to anything?

Symbols, images, metaphors, and similes – these representations express attitudes and understandings but also shape and guide them. Is retirement the head of a trail, the end of the road, both, or neither? I knew what I was retiring from, but what was I retiring to, or do we retire only from something but not to anything?

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Retirement, a Preface


A friend told me he hoped I would write something on my blog about my experiences in the early stages of retirement.  Today, I am concluding eight months of it, and so, while I am miles away from being competent at living this new adventure (let alone expert), I think I can say a little on the subject of beginning retirement.  My thoughts, feelings, and experiences are, of course, just my own and should not be generalized into anything prescriptive or even descriptive for others.

Probably because for strategic reasons in the life of the church I loved and had served for nearly twenty-seven years I retired at the end of June as the congregation was entering its summer rest period, my first two or three months without a job seemed much like an extended vacation.  Moving into a new home in a different state consumes plenty of time and energy, and I rediscovered on an almost daily basis that I enjoy yard work, especially the heavier kind that requires physical exertion but little knowledge of landscaping or skill at gardening.  I dug out sizable bushes, mowed the lawn once or twice a week, pruned trees, and hauled debris to the nearby and very convenient “leaf and woody yard waste” facility.  We explored the area, had fun, got to know our neighbors a little better, enjoyed our yard, had our screened porch enclosed, painted rooms (choosing colors was the hardest part), bought furniture, and in September went with friends on an actual vacation in Vermont.

Because our house has the unfinished basement I wanted very much, we have room for our treadmill and weight-lifting area, my workshop, general storage, and our overflow of books.  Now that everything has been moved into the house and we’ve made it through our first Christmas season, we need to rearrange all of it for room to use our new basement and find our stuff.  We also need to get rid of more. Mentioning our overflow of one type of stuff brings me to the real topics of this post: time and books.  Retirement is life after the time for an active career and as such is far too broad a subject for one blog post.

My new sense of time fooled me. 

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This is my ninth day of retirement and our fourth in our new home. As soon as we can get unpacked enough to find some things, I’ll resume blogging. It’s a fresh start, and I’m hoping to bring out what is old and what is new.