A multiple broken shoulder and now an immanent operation with a replacement titanium shoulder have been wonderful gifts to me for (what Rohr (2012) describes as) “second half of life spirituality”. Second half of life spirituality is the time in our lives when we indwell the script we have learnt of ourselves and live it out as distinctively our own. In the first half of our lives we discover our own particular narrative and in the second half we write it, live it out and own it for ourselves.
My dear shattered shoulder has enabled me to do just this. Never has a ministry been more distinctively claimed and lived out as a person’s own. I have grown to love the stillness of the late night hours when I have been unable to sleep due to my not being able to lie still on my shoulder, and I have learned once again the lessons of how to pray, as St Augustine said, as though everything depends on God.
Such have been the restrictions placed on my movements that I have given the formal blessing week after week at the Sunday parish Eucharist without raising my hand above my nose.
Such are the limitations on maneuverability that I have baptised children without being able to hold the child myself. I have had to rely on the parents to do so. It makes for a smoother ceremony.
Such have been the weakness of my shoulder that I have had to carry and lay out 200 blue chairs for school services one chair at a time. It has made for smarter neater rows.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”, said Mary Oliver. My dear lovely long shattered shoulder, soon to be replaced by a new hi-tech titanium one, has helped me to answer this question.
My shoulder has helped me to be a better priest. Rohr (2012) says that we are a script writing, boundary making, structure forming first half of life culture. We value certainty, security, routine, order and control. We live by set routines admire people who are busy and who make definite decisions and decide on specific outcomes. Two years on the National Health Service waiting list has helped me to understand the ambiguity and uncertainty that are a natural part of many people’s lives.
My shoulder has helped me become a better Christian. Rohr (2012) says that such is the reassurance and familiarity to be gained from what is routine, safety and security that many of us never feel the need to make the transition to a more reflective second half of life spirituality. My shoulder has helped me to unlearn as well as to learn what I can expect from a life of faith in Christ. It is easy to assume that there is an emotional contract in our relationship with God: we say prayers and feel peaceful or we sing worship songs and feel joyful. Sometimes for us, as for Elijah (1 Kings 12), God comes only in small whispers and we are hardly aware that he is there. We are left with faith alone to guide us through. The point of praying for healing becomes faith and hope rather than the healing for which we seek.
My appointment with the surgeon’s knife will take me back into a first half of life spirituality and I will be relying on the certainty, security, routine and order of the hospital to guide me through the process. I can’t imagine that I will ever feel as fond of my new titanium shoulder as I have of his shattered predecessor but I am looking forward to a new reality of unbroken night’s sleep, holding children at baptism services and cheering at QPR, my local football club, with my hands held above my head. I will also face a lifetime of setting of metal detectors in airports.
As a child I grew up watching a television series called The Six Million Dollar Man. It was an American science fiction thriller in which former astronaut, Colonel Steve Austin, had superhuman strength due to bionic implants and was employed as a secret agent by a fictional government agency.
My ‘one wild and precious life’ is being spent with prayer, scripture and Christian fellowship as my equivalent bionic implants and my poor damaged shoulder has been a precious companion in seeing this happen.
Our faith is shaped by the underdog. A convicted, crucified criminal is our unlikely Lord. A two year broken shoulder has been my unlikely teacher. “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord” (Rom 8:28). My new hi-tech titanium shoulder will become a part of my ongoing story of faith in Christ