There are literally hundreds if not thousands of articles on aging gracefully. In Every Man a King, Orison Swett Marden muses, ‘Better than the art of growing old gracefully is the secret of not growing old at all.” Although Marden’s 1906 “secret” focused on how mind and thought can influence one’s longevity, today’s headlines portray the “secret” as a pill which purports to extend the normal human age span an additional forty years. ( Can people really die of old age?) Not to be outdone, demographer Aubrey deGrey published in the Annals of New York Academy of Science, that “[those] born toward the end of the twenty-first century may well have a life expectancy exceeding 5,000 years.”
Science may claim the ability to prolong earthly life indefinitely, but Jesus offered eternal life as something in the present. He said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”(John 17:3 KJV) His point was not so much to seek a record-breaking mortal body sometime in the future but to find one’s present and forever unity with the life that is God, Spirit.
Christian theologian Mary Baker Eddy, who surpassed the normal life expectancies of her 19th Century generation by 35 years, noted that Jesus uses the present tense when talking about eternal life. She wrote, “‘This is life eternal,’ says Jesus, is, not shall be; and then he defines everlasting life as a present knowledge of his Father and of himself, — the knowledge of Love, Truth, and Life.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 410)
This approach to longevity is notably different from taking a pill. It involves turning away from human means toward a spiritual understanding of Life to support one. How is this possible? Is it really practical?
Take the experience of a very elderly woman, who had a debilitating disease and pleaded to be left to die. Her caregiver, a Christian Science practitioner, remained calm in spite of these demands and prayed for her patient, knowing the reality of Jesus’ promise, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”. (John 10:10 KJV) As the observer notes, within eight days, the woman was sitting up, then walking and expressing radiant joy. Within two weeks she was healed and went on to live another fifteen years. Instead of enjoying a slow and sedentary elderly life, she went to work, dedicating her life to helping others find healing through prayer, as she had.
Two years after her healing, she was quoted as saying “And to think I thought my life was over! I hadn’t even begun to live!”
This shift from being overwhelmed by symptoms and dire predictions to embracing a spiritual sense of life in God, including an attitude of blessing others, is something St. Paul counsels in his epistle to the Romans: ”To be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6 KJV) To me, this is about “keeping my eyes on God” rather than on the petty concerns of my day. It means looking away from the things that would attempt to drive a wedge between me and God, and focusing on His loving omnipotence. For instance, when I’m genuinely aware of God’s goodness in the people and activities of the day, I feel joyful, and His presence and power bring harmony to those daily details.
Carnal-mindedness is what ninth century Hindu philosopher, Shankara, highlights when he says, “People grow old and die because they see other people grow old and die.” (Unconditional Life, New York, Bantam Books, 1991, p. 69). Along the lines of Paul’s reasoning, I’ve found that looking for God’s spiritual goodness and love in people allows me to see beyond the signs of aging.
In the pursuit of long and meaningful lives, spiritual-mindedness does offer an alternative to taking a pill. With our eyes on God’s constant loving expression, we can realize that our life is not the monstrously long perpetuation of a matter-based body, but the representation of an already eternal life in Spirit, divine Love.