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The Contented Life: Spirituality and the Gift of Years

The Contented Life: Spirituality and the Gift of Years

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The Contented Life: Spirituality and the Gift of Years

118 pagine
1 ora
Jan 26, 2013


60 really is the new 40 - and the over 60s are the largest grouping in all churches. With humour, honesty and monastic insights, this guide explores the spirituality of growing older and the gifts that wait to be discovered.
Jan 26, 2013

Informazioni sull'autore

Robert Atwell was chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1981-87, after which he spent ten years as a Benedictine monk, followed by another decade being vicar to a parish in London's trendy Primrose Hill. In 2008, he was elected the bishop of Stockport in the southeast of England, near the border with Wales. He will turn sixty in 2014.

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The Contented Life - Robert Atwell

The Contented Life


Author’s Note

Foreword by Joan Bakewell

1          Invitation

2          Retirement

3          Living

4          Memories

5          Forgiveness

6          Becoming

7          Happiness

8          Finale



Author’s Note

This book began as a lecture to a group of older people in the Diocese of Chester who felt sidelined by our culture’s obsession with youth and celebrity. ‘Have we nothing to contribute?’ they asked. They were fed up with older people being seen as a problem, rather than an asset. They were equally fed up with endless talk about death and dying. What they wanted to talk about was life and living, and what they could contribute to their local communities.

So it was that I gave a talk on contentment and the gift of years. This was subsequently printed as a series of short articles and posted on the Diocesan website where it generated a huge correspondence. In over thirty years of ministry, I have never had such a large and overwhelmingly positive response to anything I have written, which led me to believe that the themes I was exploring might merit a wider audience.

I am indebted to those who first laid down the gauntlet and made me think about the challenges and opportunities that confront us as we grow older. I would also like to record my thanks to those whose stories are told in this book. Doubtless they will recognize themselves in spite of my efforts to disguise their identity. I am particularly grateful to Priscilla McBride, Xandra Bingley, Margaret Andrews, Rosemary Spencer and John Varty, all of whom read a draft of the book and made helpful suggestions.

Robert Atwell

This book is dedicated to the clergy and people of the

Diocese of Chester, from whom I have learnt a great deal

and with whom I am privileged to serve as a bishop.


More and more people are living into old age. That we know for a fact. But there is a good deal of evidence that old age can be an isolating and depressing time. This may be due to physical circumstances or the failure of society to provide enough care. But there is another concern that applies to all of us as the years roll by. It is our changing attitude to the life we have on earth and our growing thoughtfulness about what it means to be alive.

Old people often have plenty of time on their hands and thinking about such matters is a good way to occupy a part of each day. With our careers over and the children having left home, we are thrown on our own resources. I know that many people turn that time and opportunity to good account, and enjoy rich and fulfilling lives until the very end.

But some need a little help and guidance when it comes to considering the profounder issues of our lives. Sometimes people feel angry about missed opportunities and resentment about careers that didn’t match up to early hopes. Indeed that is probably true of most of us. Young hearts are full of passionate expectations and not many of us can live up to them. In our older years we can be beset by regret and failure.

This book seeks to turn such sad thoughts towards a more constructive and comforting analysis of what old age can bring. I am finding in my own life that you sometimes have to work hard to uncover its riches but that once you do, this can be one of life’s most rewarding eras. Robert Atwell understands these matters well. He brings to bear all his insights and wisdom in offering those of us advancing steadily towards life’s end a new and optimistic way of getting there.

Joan Bakewell



One of the great things about the twenty-first century is that most of us can expect to live far longer than our grandparents. Modern medical care and good health permit a quality of life vastly superior to what was possible fifty years ago. Life – at least in the developed world – is now roughly divided into three parts: twenty years of education, forty years of work, followed by twenty or thirty years of leisure. But are we prepared for the opportunity that this represents?

Far from being a grim affair of shrinking horizons, growing older can be an adventure, full of new and exciting possibilities. With the mortgage paid and the children flown the nest, our time is our own. No longer at anyone’s beck and call, we are free to do what we like. Cheap air flights make travel to remote parts of the world possible. The University of the Third Age offers a range of educational opportunities. Fitness programmes encourage us to keep supple and trim. All this is a rare luxury compared with the lot of previous generations, and marks us out still further from those who live in poorer parts of the world. Suddenly there is the chance to do things we always dreamed of. T. S. Eliot’s words beckon us: ‘Old men ought to be explorers.’¹

Of course, not everyone is energized by a fresh set of opportunities. The prospect of radical change in the pattern of daily life can generate waves of anxiety. Some find the relentless pace of technological change intimidating. They watch young people quickly master the latest piece of electronic wizardry while they fumble. Others find their confidence undermined by the way in which the values and principles they used to measure success no longer seem to matter to a new generation. Do you fight or capitulate? In a society where losing your looks and growing old is feared it is hard to believe your experience is valued, no matter what the official rhetoric declares. Not surprisingly, many older people feel they no longer have significance.

In some professions age is not a handicap. Lawyers and judges in particular are respected for their accumulated wisdom

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