The single most important shift in the second half of my life is that I have become a person of subtraction. The earlier years were all about addition, the having of children, the gaining of education, the gathering of possessions.
In terms of religion and spirituality, my focus was on learning more stuff, building a theology, a comprehensible view of the world, full of plausible explanations of reality that, hopefully, enabled me to stand in front of numerous congregations over the years and interpret the great questions of life.
The second half is about letting go. My children are in their thirties. The house has been sold. Nothing feels better than getting rid of some unnecessary thing, the dust-gathering figurine, the book I’ll never read again.
At the risk of horrifying some of my colleagues, the attic of my theology is likewise in a state of subtraction. The older I get the less I know, and the happier I am about it. Obscure biblical points have become irrelevant to me. Questions that used to occupy my attention, and perhaps send me scrambling through dozens of reference volumes, lexicons, and commentaries, will now elicit a single comment, “Nobody knows! And isn’t this a beautiful day? Have you seen that beautiful heron over there?”
Ideas of church and ministry are likewise falling by the wayside in favor of only the most vitally important. I don’t know exactly what Jesus said, but if I’m getting the gist of it, we probably should analyze it less and practice it more. It’s not so complicated Just do it. Ask questions later.
There is no doubt that we’re living in troubled times–times that call forth from us new ways of being in the world, times that necessitate the casting off of ballast, of parting with things that no longer serve us, and of focusing on that which is most important: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly.
When we have finished the subtractions, that is pretty much it.
David Starbuck Gregory