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Faith Column: Sage, elder and wisdom-keeper

Neil Folks/For the Saturday Morning Press

Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom. But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the almighty that gives him understanding. (Job 32)Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom. But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the almighty that gives him understanding. (Job 32)

Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom. But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the almighty that gives him understanding. (Job 32)

By definition the sage is considered a mentor in spiritual and philosophical topics who is renowned for profound wisdom. Wisdom is accumulated knowledge or erudition of enlightenment. The sage is thought to have wisdom that comes with age and experience or the wisdom-keeper in some societies. An elder is the older one in a family or group of individuals. Also, an elder can be either man or woman who express eldership with a spiritual journey leading them to intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual balance. Age doesn’t always mean one will automatically be a sage. It becomes a matter of a person who celebrates life and energizes others with his/her passion, one who can accurately assess his/her strengths and skill because they know their limitations and boundaries. An elder is often a wise man, a sage. The wisdom-keeper is normally thought to the older person of a family, tribe, or community with many years of accumulated experiences. All three are not without their faults but carry themselves well despite being human. All three will operate from their heart, their centers.

Becoming an elder or sage in the broad perspective of life is one who is operating out of the second half of their life where life is not about competition but fostering consensus; stewardship instead of exploitation; spiritual expression instead of a lust for power; of mentoring rather than directing. Terry Jones in his book “The Elder Within, The Source Of Mature Masculinity,” said “Eldership is wisdom in an active state utilized on the behalf of others.” Lets look at what it takes to become this person, male or female. I’ll center more on the male in this article because there are too many young men who haven’t been guided into adulthood by a father or older male. The steps will also work for the female elder/sage as well.

What are some of the characteristics of an elder or sage? Before becoming an elder, he has had to make the spiritual journey of life first. Here are five basic touchstones one has to experience to start the early journey into the second stage of life. First, the older man is a Centered male who is patient, loving and available to others. He has no need for power or control. Community, cooperation and consensus stir these men. The traditional masculine attributes we see today which include competition, patriarchy and emotional control don’t appeal to an Elder/Sage because these processes don’t nurture the soul. Motivating and invigorating are their assertiveness’s. They aren’t afraid to speak their minds and are generative, meaning they have a live-giving energy others can absorb. I think it is the role of the Elder/Sage as mature adults is to facilitate creativity in the young, not teach the patterns of the past. These are men who are grounded in the power of here and now.

Second characteristic of becoming an early elder/sage is gathering. Here men are willing to listen deeply to each other’s stories. One must be a deep compassionate listener and in order to do so, one has to be a peace with his past, releasing all past hurts and grievances. He must be able to let go of all the ego needs of the first half of life that one uses to fill the container in early life. He isn’t afraid to be in community other men.

Third he learns to be connecting, willing to choose to walk with another man shoulder to shoulder. He learns to meet communally to be in one-on-one relationships. There are many nuances to connecting, but the purest sense of connecting is the joining. To be really connected is almost as if two separate entities become one — much like a marriage. Of course this kind of connecting between men can be very uncomfortable. Most of us do not want to be that intimate with another man. It’s a risk and implies doing the even riskier thing of loving another man. A good example of this is between King David and Saul’s son Jonathan. There is a bond between them, not one of homosexuality. It is being able to be open with everyone and the relationship is paramount when furthering the spiritual journey.

Fourth characteristic is releasing, a man who is willing to show up and let go of the ways that no longer serve him. Living in the present moment requires the elder to release the past. Sometimes it requires stopping, going back into history, identifying what it may be that stops the elder from moving forward, and make peace with it — going to the fire and putting it out and then moving forward again. In Ephesians 4:22, it says “Let go of your old way of life, put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusions.” Therefore, making peace with our shadow — stop dragging the baggage around.

The fifth and final touchstone is called serving. The elder/sage are men who learned to honor the earth and serve the whole human community. If the older man lives only for himself, he just lives, the meaning and appreciation of life is not deep internally. The sage learns what Jesus taught his disciples, “I did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20-28). For the mature elder/sage it is by love for that they really live. He who has Love has God in him, and is in God. I personally think that the first requirement of any society is that its mature adult membership should realize and represent the fact it is they who constitute its life and being, and to establish in the young a system of sentiments that will be appropriate to the society in which he is to live, and on which that society itself must depend for its existence. The elder/sage accepts his role with responsibility and commitment.

The elder/sage is not satisfied just being good, it must be transformational to all concerned. They are intertwined with their families and society. If they done their inner work, work and life will have meaning, and they will leave a healthy footprint wherever they go that brings with it healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, peacemaking, generosity, kindness and generatively. In summing up the spiritual journey of the elder/sage, their greatness stems from their willingness to share their wisdom and help heal, to express their humor and their soulful spirit. They are not gods, but godlike. They are wonderfully human.

In closing I must bring to light another element that the mature older man/woman must remember and I quote Elihu in Job 32 (6-10).

“I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.

I though, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’

But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.

It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.

Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know.”

A story to be continued another time. God Bless.


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