Upbeat Spirituality for Women of a “Certain Age”
Dorothy L. Sayers, mystery writer of the Peter Wimsey series, once commented that “Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”
I am not “there” yet—I’m still tamable, persuadable, not yet an unleashed, unstoppable bolt out of the blue hurtling toward a cherished target. Not quite.
But as I advance in years I’m beginning to understand the strength of shedding excess baggage: pride of looks, saving “face,” the avoidance of looking “foolish.” I’m convinced that changing our sights can make way for other, more important purposes and graces for us women in our later years.
What has surprised me most is how this modulation in values is supported by my Christian tradition.
We have, as an example in the Old Testament, Sarah the wife of Abraham, who in her old age made her husband a “father of many nations” through late (impossible?) childbirth. Though first she laughed at the suggestion.
And then in the New Testament we find Elizabeth (Luke 1), another wife too old for childbearing who nonetheless carries to term John the Baptist—he who becomes the forerunner of Christ.
Older women definitely matter. We sometimes forget how much.
But in my research on this subject, I have found the most applicable commentary within the Wisdom tradition—principles about the values that persist in old age. For instance, in Psalm 92: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree. … In old age they still produce fruit.”
And in the intertestamental book of Sirach: “Watch for the opportune time, and beware of evil, and do not be ashamed to be yourself.” Even if it includes encroaching gray hair, a slower gait, and definite laugh lines? “For there is a shame that leads to sin, and there is a shame that is glory and favor” (4:20-21). Admitting we’re at a disadvantage—being older in a world that overvalues surface appearances—is simply facing reality.
Remember, Sarah laughed.
Obviously it WOULD be a shame for us women of a certain age to waste our expertise, to hide the hard-won scars of battles survived, and to forfeit the right to speak out and help others avoid pitfalls—if we have the means to do so.
Some may picture Lady Wisdom—Sophia—as a stunning goddess with a scepter that merely touches to make one wise. But after my recent study I’m more inclined to see her with a few well-earned wrinkles, wearing nondescript clothes and clutching a large overstuffed handbag full of homespun remedies.
In short, to me she’s a sort of Mother Teresa/Miss Marple combo with one foot each in the best of two worlds.
Despite outward impressions, what these wonderful older women have taught us is simple: souls don’t wrinkle.
When I was researching my book Miss Marple: Christian Sleuth, I couldn’t help seeing this elderly heroine’s similarity to other save-the-day figures. With a twist.
What is it about the “old lady with a sweet, placid, spinsterish face” that strikes such a chord of recognition in us? Perhaps it is simply the realization that the least likely person in the room holds the key to the most entangled mystery—the one that others have failed to solve.
And woe to those who try to tame or stop her. Similar to C. S. Lewis’ character of Aslan in his Narnia series, who, it is pointed out, is not a “tame” lion—Miss Marple herself might be genteel, soft-spoken, self-contained, and a proper English gentlewoman. But as Agatha Christie’s stories about her so cunningly reveal, she is far from “safe.”
As Miss Marple’s housekeeper Cherry comments in the novel Nemesis: “Anyone would think you were gentle as a lamb. But there’s times I could say you’d behave like a lion … ” if the circumstances called for it.
Do I look forward to letting loose and personally zinging like an arrow toward the bull’s eye of my late-life destiny?
I think I’ll take it a day at a time.
But it could be worse. Though these are huge steps to follow in, reading about my untamable women mentors is both meaningful and enjoyable (read or reread Christie’s twelve Marple novels and twenty short stories and you’ll see).
Souls don’t wrinkle—and our laugh lines tell the world we’ve already been having plenty of fun.
Isabel Anders is the author of Miss Marple: Christian Sleuth and Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold, as well as other inspirational titles.