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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Ripening Mind and Heart

Sunday, September 18, 2022

In this week’s meditations, Father Richard Rohr and other teachers consider how to age well with consciousness, spiritual depth, and purpose. In this essay from the CAC’s journal Oneing, Richard uses the image of ripening to describe this process:

The word “ripening” helps us move beyond any exclusive concern with physical aging, because our concerns are much more than that. If I am to believe the novels, myths, poems, and people I have met in my life, old age is almost never described as an apex of achievement as one sits atop a summit with the raised arms of a victorious athlete. It is something else, almost always something else—usually something other than what was initially imagined, or even hoped for.

Ripening, at its best, is a slow, patient learning, and sometimes even a happy letting go—a seeming emptying out to create readiness for a new kind of fullness—which we are never sure about. If we do not allow our own ripening, an ever-increasing resistance and denial sets in, an ever-increasing protection around an over-defended self. At our very best, we learn how to hope as we ripen. Youthful hopes have concrete goals, whereas the hope of older years is usually aimless hope, hope without goals, even naked hope — perhaps real hope.

Such stretching is the agony and the joy of later years, although one can avoid both of these rich experiences too. Old age, as such, is almost a complete changing of gears and engines from the first half of our lives, and does not happen without many slow realizations, inner calmings, lots of inner resistance and denials, and eventual surrenders. All of them by God’s grace work with our ever-deepening sense of what we really desire and who we really are.

Reality, fate, destiny, providence, and tragedy are slow but insistent teachers. The horizon of old age seems to be a plan that God has prepared as inevitable and part of the necessary school of life. What is gratuitously given is also gratuitously taken away, just as Job slowly came to accept. And sometimes we remember that his eventual pained response was “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21).

If we are to speak of a spirituality of ripening, we need to recognize that it is always characterized by an increasing tolerance for ambiguity, a growing sense of subtlety, an ever-larger ability to include and allow, and a capacity to live with contradictions and even to love them! I cannot imagine any other way of coming to those broad horizons except through many trials, unsolvable paradoxes, and errors in trying to resolve them.

The ripening of mind and heart is most basically a capacity for nondual consciousness and contemplation. So my guidance is a simple reminder to recall what we will be forced to learn by necessity and under pressure anyway—the open-ended way of allowing and the deep meaning that some call faith. To live in trustful faith is to ripen; it is almost that simple.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, introduction to Oneing 1, no. 2, Ripening (Fall 2013): 11, 12–14. Available as PDF download.

Explore Further. . .

Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 12, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Trinity Tree (detail), 2022, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 7, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Aging and transformation: the natural cycle of life, learning, growing, sharing. We flower, we leaf, we shed, we become.

Story from Our Community:

This month I’m turning 64. In the game of life, you might say I’m “rounding third” and heading home. So, what have I learned? I spend less time separating people in my mind by their political or religious views. I give space to each moment because I know it is really all I have. And now I understand that whatever I want to change about the world begins with me. From 50 to 64, I took more risks than I ever had before. I fell in love twice, resumed a career as if I’d never left, retreated to my father’s old house, and never missed a meal. I wake up happy a lot more days than I did when I was younger. —Cindy G.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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