‘INTO ANOTHER INTENSITY – Diminishment and Retirement’ by Bp. Oliver Tomkins (ob. 1992)
(extracted from SLG Publication 119)
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit? …
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
(T.S.Eliot, ‘East Coker II')
‘But is not ‘retirement’ … the relinquishing of one’s ‘charge’ (as a priest)? I do not think that it is only my over-conscientious temperament which makes me think not. A priest is ordained not primarily to a charge but for ‘office and work in the Church of God’: so long as I have breath and a neighbour there is no discharge. Indeed, I suppose that what I am here trying to express has its own resonance in every life which has been largely devoted to the service of God and our neighbour,. The hardest thing to bear is a sense of being useless. This is where ‘retirement’ slides into the rather different matter of simply growing old. There comes a time when death is the next probable event, with the mixture that brings fear and hope.
Yet, as we pass, gradually or suddenly, into that phase, the score is marked rallentando. It becomes primarily a matter of pace; in prayer, in neighbourly caring, in reading and in sharing one’s thoughts, the attitude remains that of the Godward side of men and the manward side of God, only with an even clearer awareness that we have this treasure in earthen vessels.
… But of course the whole joke is that we know how incomplete it has all been right along – the foolishness of preaching, the puzzling reflections in a mirror, the veil which hides that dazzling face. There are hints, though, that the fog is lifting.
The soul’s dark cottage, battered and decayed
Lets in new light through chinks which Time hath made:
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home.
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
That stands upon the threshold of the new.
Edmund Waller, ‘Old Age’
Perhaps the best bonus of retirement is that it is one stage nearer home.