It took me almost ten years to discover what the meadows of my 60s is about. I’m now 68, prepared to begin the ascent to the meadow of my 70s.
In 2016 I wrote how ascending meadows is a metaphor for maturing, coming toward the fullness of salvation. I was 62 and had ascended five meadows (my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s). I had learned how, in ascending, we can look back and see what our previous meadow was about. We also see how the optimum window of opportunity for ascending is between the age of 28 and 32, 38 and 42, and so on, every ten years. Miss it and your faith plateaus.
Which brings me to 2023. I’m 68, beginning the ascent to the meadow of my 70s. And in so doing, I’m discovering what the 60s is about: fervency. But not fervency as most imagine it. I referring to fervency as the opposite of sloth. Now there’s a word we hardly hear anymore.
Sloth is number four on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. Aquinas defined it as “sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good.” Sloth is a certain weariness with toilsome work and, quite often, the tiring world. Slothful people groan at the notion of beginning something arduous, resisting the demands that come with loving God and neighbor. They opt instead for escapism or apathy.
I feel this in my 60s. Slothful people talk about bucket lists—travel, fine cuisine, golf, and so on. These aren’t bad necessarily. But they often indicate a weary resignation from the perseverance required to keep working at seeking the good of all. Sloth seeks to scale back, settle down in a comfortably cozy Christianity. That’s not for me. At 68, I’m opting for fervency, largely because of lessons I’m learning as I ascend. Here are four.
Unlearning. Mark Twain said education consists mainly of what we have unlearned. We don’t come to faith tabula rasa (clean slate). We come with incorrect or incomplete preconceived notions about God, faith, salvation. We must unlearn them. As Teresa of Avila (the mystic depicted in the The Ecstasy of Teresa statue) ascended in levels of prayer, she learned “the soul takes great delight in her unlearning.” This is a delight I hardly hear in older Christians. I first noticed this in my 40s. Christians my age would describe their faith as they did in their teens and 20s. If 20 years into your faith you’re still describing Jesus, the cross, and salvation as you did 20 years ago, you haven’t matured in the faith. You haven’t unlearned what you should have unlearned.
Confessing. Unlearning means confessing where I’ve been wrong. I learned some of this from G. K. Chesterton, who wrote, “We do not really need a religion that is right where we are right. What we need is a religion that is right where we are wrong.” I’ve been wrong about many things, including salvation, the cross, and so on. As I’ve unlearned, I’ve come clean and confessed.
Delaying gratification. Bucket lists are the things you do before you die. Fervency is just the opposite. It’s pouring out your life as a drink offering before you die. So you often delay gratification in this life. It’s taking pilgrimages over playing tourist (imagine travelling the universe in eternity without having to check bags). It’s knowing we’ll enjoy the finest cuisine at the wedding banquet with Christ. We’ll live in the biggest mansion ever.
Recognizing passion is not fervency. In ascending I’ve come to appreciate what the Carmelite nun Thérèse of Lisieux wrote: passion is not spiritual fervency. Scripture depicts passion as intense suffering or sexual climax (i.e., sexual arousal in animals or people advised to marry rather than burn with passion). No one cannot sustain either for any length of time, which is why passion is not fervency. Fervency is persevering in seeking the good of all, ascending above the sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good as we get older.
I close with two considerations. The first has to do with taking sloth seriously.
Thirty years ago, American novelist Thomas Pynchon wrote: “Unless the state of our souls becomes once more a subject of serious concern, there is little question that Sloth will continue to evolve away from its origins… when time was a story, with a beginning, middle and end. Belief was intense… The Christian God was near. Felt. Sloth—defiant sorrow in the face of God’s good intentions—was a deadly sin.” Do we who are getting up in the years treat sloth as a subject of serious concern?
The second is what’s behind sloth. C. S. Lewis captures it in a chilling passage in The Screwtape Letters. The worldly-wise Screwtape is advising his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. But this young man instead comes to Christ. In retaliation, Wormwood is advised to “steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them… but which once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.” Sloth. The seeds are sown in our 20s. The weeds appear in our 60s if we don’t ascend. Which is why at 68 I’m fervent for Christ, making my next ascent.
I hope you’ll do likewise in whatever level of ascent is coming next for you.
 Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life, translated by Mirabai Starr (New Seeds, 2007), 111.