It's never too late to become a spiritual leader in your community. Rabbi Rami reflects on four decades of spiritual leadership, and what the process could look like for you, no matter your age.
Buddha was 35 years old when he attained enlightenment.
Jesus was 33 when he ascended to heaven.
When I was in my mid-thirties, I was a recently ordained rabbi juggling a new congregation, a preschooler, a mortgage, and student debt. Forty years later, I am a recently retired rabbi, juggling two grandsons, and trying to make ends meet on Social Security (an oxymoron!) and Medicare. And still no enlightenment or hope of ascension. So, it was a joy to speak with Laurie Sue Brockway on the Spirituality+Health Podcast about her essay “Put Your Wisdom to Work,” and to hear her say that age is no impediment to spiritual wisdom.
She’s right, of course.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was 52 when he made his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and then to the Seventh Heaven where he stood in the presence of Allah.
And Abraham and Sarai were 75 and 65 respectively when they heard the call of YHVH.
And Moses was 80 when he received the Ten Commandments, and his sister Miriam was at least 87 when she led the Israelite women in an ecstatic dance in the wilderness.
Given that I have not gotten back to the gym since covid, I doubt I will be taking any arduous treks, climbing mountains, or dancing ecstatically in the desert any time soon. Still, there is something to be said for wisdom tempered with age. What will you do with yours?
In the sidebar attached to her essay, Rev. Brockway invites you to consider several roles through which you might express your spiritual wisdom: chaplains, celebrants, grief educators, interfaith ministers, priestesses, wedding officiants, and spiritual directors. Each of these is a worthy calling, but I will focus on only two: celebrants and spiritual directors.
Celebrants help people build a scaffolding for expressing joy and grief. When training to be a rabbi, I learned to provide people with a Jewish container to hold their feelings of love and grief. Whether the container was a wedding or a funeral, I played with the liturgy and interpretations of tradition to make the container reflect the personality, values, and desires of the people involved, but by and large, the ceremony itself was fixed by history and halacha (Jewish law).
Celebrants are not constrained in this way. They don’t create a container but a scaffolding, a framework on which their clients can build a ceremony of love and grief that is unique to them. As one celebrant friend said to me years ago, “People have strong feelings, but they don’t feel strong enough to express them without help. By sharing texts and traditions from a variety of sources both religious and secular, I provide that help.”
I see celebrants doing the outer work of spiritual living while spiritual directors (I prefer the term spiritual companions) doing the inner work.
The task of a companion is to help you see the Divine (however named) manifesting in, with, and as you. In this way, the spiritual companion continually reminds me that I am part of a greater reality over which I have no control and that living without the illusion of control allows me the liberating grace of being surrendered to the One of whom I am a part and from whom I am never apart. Unlike a pastoral counselor whose focus is on a specific religious framework, a spiritual companion's sole focus is you and your awakening to the One Who Is All.
Again, there are equally powerful gifts to be gleaned from the other paths listed in this essay. I mention these two only to encourage you to seek options for sharing your wisdom, whether you are in your mid-thirties, mid-fifties, mid-eighties, or somewhere in-between.
Listen to the interview that inspired this essay here.