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Center for Action and Contemplation

Becoming a Grand Parent

Friday, September 23, 2022

Richard Rohr draws on the archetype of the wise ruler to describe what it means to be a “grand” parent, someone who has become a mature elder:

The final stage of the wisdom journey in mythology is symbolized by the ruling image of the king or queen or what I like to call the grand father or grand mother.

When we can let go of our own need for everything to be as we want it, and our own need to succeed, we can then encourage the independent journey and the success of others. The grand parent is able to relinquish center stage and to stand on the sidelines, and thus be in solidarity with those who need their support. Children can feel secure in the presence of their grandparents because, while their parents are still rushing to find their way through life’s journey, grandpa and grandma have hopefully become spacious. They can contain problems, inconsistencies, inconveniences, and contradictions—after a lifetime of practicing and learning.

Grand parents can trust life because they have seen more of it than younger people have, and they can trust death because they are closer to it. Something has told them along the way that who they are now is never the final stage, and this one isn’t either. We need to be close enough to our own death to see it coming and to recognize that death and life are united in an eternal embrace, and one is not the end of the other. Death is what it is. I am a grand father when I am ready to let go. To the grand mother, death is no longer an enemy, but as Saint Francis called it, a “welcome sister.”

The soul of the grand parent is large enough to embrace the death of the ego and to affirm the life of God in itself and others, despite all imperfections. Its spaciousness accepts all the opposites in life—masculine and feminine, unity and difference, victory and defeat, us and them and so on—because it has accepted the opposition of death itself. Grand parents know that their beliefs have less to do with unarguable conclusions than scary encounters with life and the living God. They have come to realize that spiritual growth is not so much learning as it is unlearning, a radical openness to the truth no matter what the consequences or where it leads. They understand that they do not so much grasp the truth as let go of their egos, which are usually nothing more than obstacles to the truth.

I cannot imagine a true grand father or grand mother who is not a contemplative in some form. And contemplatives are individuals who live in and return to the center within themselves, and yet they know that they are not the Center. They are only a part, but a gracious and grateful part at that.


Adapted from Richard Rohr with Joseph Martos, From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1990, 1996, 2005), 169, 171, 173, 174–175.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: 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:

Several years ago I made a conscious decision to shift my life to a contemplative state of solitude. . . I decided that despite the challenges of illness, I wanted to spend the final years of my life mostly on my own. Still, I have found a way to be of service to those I love. As friends and family struggle with the “what is” of today, I am there for them with a calm heart and words of consolation, reassurance, and hope. Although I am speaking from my own heart, I truly believe my words flow from all the wisdom teachers quoted in the Daily Meditations and other CAC publications. I have finally found the faith community I have been searching for my whole life. I feel so blessed! —Kathy S.

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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