Saturday, September 5, 2020

Reflections at 90 years of age. (becoming a wise old man???)

Surprise! How did I get here so fast as the time goes faster at my age and I move more slowly. Does moving about slowly make the time go faster?  

I don't plan to complete my reflections today since I am planning on another day and another day with frequent updates and revisions. The frequent updates and revisions have been few but we have now moved from June 1, 2020, to January 3, 2021. I am on my way to becoming 91. 

When I was in high school I read a book filled with essays on different topics. I found the book under what we called a library table. It was a monstrosity. How the book came to be there I forgot to ask. Along with two other books. That constituted the extent of our home library. Perhaps the small number of books was an advantage, I kept reading the book on essays and the chapter that caused continued interest and rereading was entitled wisdom. Then and there I decided I wanted wisdom. Now at 90 years of age, what can I say? I lost the book. I don't know what happened to it. I don't even know what happened to the library table. I am sure my mother sold it when she sold the house after my father died. 

Shortly before coming down with chicken pox I started a library of my own by joining a couple book clubs. One on the classics (Plato and Aristotle) and another a religious book club.  They sent a book a month and my library grew rapidly. Just in time. I came down with chicken pox sometime in the middle of my sophomore year. Itchy time. The book that came for me to read was Richest of the Poor, a book about the life of St. Francis of Assisi  A sickness changed his life. I began to identify. Afterwards I became a more serious student, my grades improved immensely enabling me to graduate from high school with a B average. Quite a jump from my freshman year and first half of my sophomore year. During my senior year I took to heart a repeated phrase from my Civics teacher, "become a life long learner." That phrase can be heard more frequently now, 70 years later. My seminary uses a similar language for their Continuing Education Program. I added a book entitled some time in the mid-60's, 

What is strange is the reaction taking place with some in authority who are listening less, ignoring, even denying those with specialized training and expertise in all kinds of health care modalities, research, infection control, epidemiology, public health, etc. Where is our wisdom during a very serious pandemic?  I would count our local infection control doctor with Scott County Public Health, Dr. Katz, as a wise doctor.  I worked with him in the hospital during the HIV crisis. He writes for the newspaper and his comments reflect those of the public health department where he works. Sad. He would mandate wearing a mask and our governor refuses to issue a mandate. As a result Iowa still has a high number of folks with the virus, that includes our Scott County where I lived.

Perhaps a wise saying would be, there is a certain amount of resistance to gaining wisdom.

Time to look for the definition of wisdom. Sophis in the Greek language, an ultimate kind of knowing. The word is in the background of our word sophistication. Somehow I think something was lost in translation. Being sophisticated is not all that complimentary. 

More to be added here.

I have been interrupted by an email question. How to get rid of whiteflies on tomato plants? To be continued. Also from another time. Aphids have attacked my new Chinese cabbage plants and lettuce leaves. Investigation and purchase. Neem oil in a spray bottle is now on my shelf. After a couple of days, to be applied every 7 days, it seems to be effective. I am an avid gardener at 90. Growing up on a farm provides a love for the land. With a three tierd grow light stand I can start seeds for transplanting to the garden And lettuce can be grown to harvest and well as micro greens. Now I see the seed company has  another kind of lettuce I will try out. (as I edit I notice I ended the sentence with a preposition. An unconscious slip revealing my background comes from what is known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. I will leave the sentence instead of editing  to illustrate who I am.) 

Back from advice on whiteflies, aphids, and Neem oil. In the meantime I sent off an email about a Greek passage in the Acts of the Apostles that became a discussion point during our Saturday morning gathering. I went to the Hub interlinear which had Peter's sermon in chapter 2.  My email about the passage in question received a quick reply with the words "Thanks for your wisdom." Timely. Maybe what I have a hard time acknowledging others can.

Another break for an email of a person going through a difficult grief.  A reply to her pain. She wrote back, "That helped so much." 

As a retired hospital chaplain who facilitated a grief recovery group for 17 years, 1975 to 1992, I am still involved. I have a sermon on the Trinity Cathedral web site on the grief of our time, and one on this blog. Recovering from our losses is a seed bed for wisdom. Wisdom grows out of our relational experiences including all kinds of losses.

When I come back to this blog I will acknowledge the mystical. At this age I call myself a Christian mystic. To describe myself as such did not happen over night. The journey tells the story. Someone else was helping to write the story I will tell, The story is told by many others down through human history and in different religious traditions. Each has their own story. My experience comes out of the Christian tradition in the Episcopal Church. 

On the 3rd Sunday of March in 1973 I celebrated the Eucharist at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bettendorf. The sermon was a summary of a paper I would present at the Chaplain's Convention in Atlanta, GA. The paper was on training lay people to be story listeners in a hospital setting. I was nervous about the presentation. The paper was a ground breaker to some extent and I didn't know how my fellow chaplains would accept it. During the consecration prayer in the Eucharist I came to the word broke and I lost my voice. My brain was reviewing my father's losses and rejection. I was reviewing my own. The time lapse was long enough for people in the congregation to start wondering if I was sick. Some later told me I turned white. Another was ready to come forward and help. Then I heard a voice: "broken is not the last word". I regained my voice and finished the service. The talk in Atlanta went better than expected with a small turn out. But a chaplain from as hospital across the river resonated. He an I began training Befrienders together for a number of years. We even wrote a book about our work. Fortress press rejected our manuscript but the two hospitals published a limited edition. 

Now I am ready to talk about mystical experience and learning from the margins. The Befrienders were a learning group from the margins starting in 1966. And yesterday, 9/27/2020, Richard Rohr reflection was on St. Francis of Assisi, mysticism and the margins. There. I tied a few things together. Riches of the Poor, a mystical experience, and margins as a part of journey toward wisdom.

Besides my on going reflection on wisdom I am adding the importance of balance. I have a physical therapist who is helping me by providing exercises to improve my balance.  When I started the program I could nob balance myself when I put my two feet side by side. Now, no problem. The problems comes when I put one foot in front of the other without holding on to anything but having something nearby to grab. I am improving. I have better balance on my right leg, not so good on the left. I am doing exercises to strengthen my leg muscles. 

Yesterday I read in a Harvard Medical newsletter that different medications can affect balance. I have more to read and learn as I continue to improve my balance. Older people like me fall easier and having better balance is a preventative approach. Hoping for better balance for all who read this. You may have gained some wisdom in the process.  I am a blog on being helped by a physical therapist. My wife is presently being helped by that same physical therapist. She has had extra training which helps her to have a wisdom about the exercises she offers. She has given me some exercises to help with balance, my herniated discs in my lower back, and the neuropathy in my feet. She would not be able to remove the cancer tumor in my bladder as the urologist did in October of 2019 and the subsequent bladder scopes which say clear. He shared wisdom brings more comfort and management skills each day I continue to live. 

During the pandemic my wife and I are most fortunate and blessed to live in a large house with a big yard. We both have our hobbies and interests. Mine is growing foods to eat from a three tiered grow light stand. I am specializing in micro greens at present, several herbs, impatient rooting from a parent plant five years ago, and etc.  I write for a blog and the listening reflections on Trinity Cathedral's web site. At present I am facilitating a Saturday morning Zoom meeting on the letters of St. Paul. I like to bring out the Greek language meanings that get lost in the English translations. The rhetoric in Paul's Greek doesn't always get translated accurately. Also in the Gospels with the Greek pecan being an example. It gets translated more than on way, crossing over and other side. Folks that only read the English are unaware to the same word being used more than once which is a way of saying, pay attention, peran is the introduction to something very important, only revealed after peran.


Marlin Whitmer


  1. Balance. The answer we all look for hidden in plain site. How to get there - that's the challenge.

  2. Balance: one of the seven deep metaphors reached out of folks from Harvard Business. A word moved metaphorically to many different places, at present we have finding a balance in the pandemic between economic issues and staying safe. This is a challenge.