Donna Henes, also known as The Urban Shaman and Mama Donna, has been a ceremonialist and spiritual teacher for 47 years. She is famous for conducting public rituals in New York City. Her offerings include everything from solstice celebrations, pet blessings, memorials, and holiday celebrations, which she provides on top of a busy teaching, counseling, and private ceremony schedule. Spiritual work is second nature to her, and she finds that her skills get better with age. “Aging is the best thing that ever happened to my career,” she says. “People trust someone who is older and knows their stuff.” She calls it “saging.”
As the author of the self-help classic, The Queen of Myself: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife, she has long been helping people step into their true power. “It’s important to claim everything you’ve learned and somehow find the confidence to live it, to honor your own wisdom and your own experience,” she says. These days, she finds herself counseling many younger women who are grappling with low self-worth.
She continues to seek new ways to offer spiritual services, especially those that honor emotions, so she can help people who are not given much of a chance to express them. For example, a future offering may be a large outdoor ceremony to honor grief. “There’s no public ritual that I know of where we can sob together, cry together, or mourn together, except of course for a funeral,” she says.
“Everybody has lost something—a job, a family member, an income, their own health, or their sense of safety. Different religions have ways of dealing with this kind of thing. But our culture is a mixing pot of many cultures and many religions. I can’t think of any ritualized way where people can allow themselves to feel and express grief or sadness, especially if you’re a man.”
While spiritual work may not be the highest-paying profession, it can be the most creative and fulfilling, she says. “I love my life.”
Sharing Wisdom Is Good for the Soul
As people age, they often seek ways to blend spiritual interests with meaningful work; the kind of work that invites us to expand our own minds and horizons beyond our own religion and background and open to a more multifaith and multicultural approach to life. Stepping outside the box opens us to a larger circle of friends and colleagues and allows us to learn from people of all backgrounds.
Linda Yael Schiller, MSW, LICSW, a body, mind, and spiritual psychotherapist, says that the wisdom years are a time for connecting with our own spiritual resources and having more capacity to offer our “hard-won wisdom” to others. It is a chance to do our part in trying to repair the world, and a time to expand our awareness.
“As an integrative therapist, I attend to matters of the spirit with my clients, as well as the mind, heart, and body,” she says. “Full healing from most of life’s slings and arrows includes connecting with some aspect of the Divine, of a source of healing and love larger than ourselves and our world. Helping my clients to find these resources is one of the joys of my work. Whether we call this energy God, or the Force, or Buddha, or Nature, or the Universe, feeling held in these Hands adds to more complete healing.”
Doing our own inner work allows us to reach out to others. “I know from experience, both my own and that of my clients, that being focused on the wellbeing of others helps us to not only get a break or reprieve from our own storms and stress, but allows us to feel of use, of service,” she says. “Helping others and contributing is an important aspect of aging. It is a win-win when we share what we have learned.”
In fact, Schiller, who is also a dreamwork and trauma expert, expanded her own way of sharing wisdom when she published her first book, Modern Dreamwork: New Tools for Decoding Your Soul’s Wisdom, at age 64. Her second book, PTSDreams: Transform Your Nightmares from Trauma through Healing Dreamwork, came out as she celebrated her 68th birthday.
Turning a Spiritual Practice Into a Career
Najah Lightfoot built a new career based on her spiritual practice and experience, and her place in her spiritual community. With expertise in rites, spell work, and folk practices, she expanded her subject matter expertise by writing freelance articles. Her ability to help others navigate life led to greater opportunities. By the time she was 59, she landed her first book contract for Good Juju: Mojos, Rites & Practices for the Magical Soul, and her second book, Powerful Juju: Goddesses, Music & Magic for Comfort, Guidance & Protection, came out when she was 62. “I retired from the federal government as an IT specialist in 2016,” she says. “I definitely came into my true passion in my older years. I know there is a lot that our life experiences can lend us as we move forward in life, seeking the things we truly wish to do.”
Today, she shares her wisdom through her writing and as a keynote speaker and workshop leader at conferences. She considered it a great honor when the Auburn Seminary asked her to become a fellow of the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. As part of a Healing for Healers cohort, she became part of a group devoted to helping women of color prioritize the care of their bodies, minds, and spirits and empower their intellectual expression. This is a place where Black women leaders who are striving for justice in Black and Latinx communities can find support.
“I was invited into the Leadership Circle from my own spiritual practice,” she says. “There is a mixture of spiritual backgrounds, which is so lovely. Some people are ordained or initiated in their religions or traditions, while others are not.” Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock is among a diverse group of Senior Fellows affiliated with the seminary.
Returning to a Spiritual Home
My husband, Rev. Dr. Victor Fuhrman, got the call to join the ministry in his forties and graduated from The New Seminary in 1997 (where we met!). He followed his path as an interfaith minister, healer, spiritual counselor, and Red Cross chaplain while maintaining his full-time position as a vice president in the welding industry. Then he got a new call to the ministry. “At the age of 67, and after 42 years in the ‘day job,’ spirit called once again, and I earned a Doctor of Spiritual Direction from the New Seminary,” he recalls. “In 2021, I was asked to join The Interfaith Temple, the seminary’s ordaining body, as Minister of Communication on the temple’s ministry team.”
He offered interfaith worship services on Zoom and contributed messages, lyrics, and poetry, as well as assisting the senior minister in various ways. As someone who trained directly with the founder of the seminary, he was also asked to act as the wisdom keeper of that legacy. He had the chance to share teachings on embracing all traditions, honoring people of all backgrounds, and acknowledging that there is a light of the divine that lives within and unites us all. After years of carrying so much responsibility in the business world, he flourished in his spiritual work. Now 70, he is entering a new stage of “spiritual purpose, drive, and energy.”
Organizations That Welcome the Wise Ones
As people age, they sometimes fear that their voices may not be heard and their contributions may not be valued. This is especially true for women, says Annabel Du Boulay, spiritual teacher and founder of The Avalon Rose Chapel. She has long been leading transformational training and programs for priestesses, priests, and people of all backgrounds interested in the teachings of many ancient cultures. Her aim is to create a sacred container for learning and give people the inspiration to consciously walk their own unique path of gnosis and of self-knowledge, she says.
Having recently entered her fifties, it is clear that a younger generation of students looks to her for her wisdom. She has made her community a welcoming place for people of all ages, backgrounds, and traditions. It is filled with people from many counties, and she offers a special place of honor to elder members.
Given the conflicting messages older women get from society, Du Boulay encourages women to not buy into negative concepts. “It’s absolutely an essential part of spirituality that we honor the elder women and honor their life experience,” she says. “It is important that we have respect for all that they’ve survived and for all the soul gifts that they’re bringing through, and that we honor the wisdom that they embody.”
Embrace Your Spiritual Growth Spurt
Is there something you have always wanted to do or become? Would you like to learn more or train in a new line of spiritual work? Here are a few jobs that welcome people with wisdom and experience and offer a chance to support others spiritually, emotionally, or in a celebratory way.
Chaplain: A religious leader of any faith can become a chaplain. They support people of all faiths, as well as those with no religious affiliation. They often work with organizations, schools, hospitals, the military and first responders.
Celebrant: In this role, a professional celebrant is skilled at presiding over different kinds of significant life moments, including weddings, baby blessings, and funerals. Ordination may not be required, but they need credentials to legally solemnize weddings.
Grief Educator: So many people suffer through devastating grief and can benefit from having someone with a sympathetic ear who is skilled in grief work. David Kessler is a grief expert who says “helping is healing,” and he trains others on how to be present for people who are grieving.
Interfaith Minister: Every faith has designated clergy, but interfaith ministers (also called interspiritual) are trained in the tenets, rituals, and beliefs of all faiths. They are prepared to pray with and serve people of any background, as well as celebrate all faith traditions. In interfaith weddings, they often blend different traditions.
Priestess: In the international goddess community, a priestess or priest may come from any religious background or tradition and also walk this goddess-centered path. This is a vocation that can also become a job that includes guiding ceremonies and teaching, as well as creative pursuits, such as music, dancing, or writing.
Wedding Officiant: Taking part in the most joyous part of people’s lives can be very empowering work. You can celebrate the common denominator between a couple’s love and help them blend their families and traditions as they blend their lives. In the US, wedding officiants are often ordained as clergy.
Spiritual Director: This is a role of holy listening. As people engage in a spiritual path and deepen their relationship with the divine, they also face challenges and spiritual crises. Spiritual directors are nonjudgmental guides who offer their presence and bear witness to their client’s experiences, and they offer wisdom at the right moments.
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