The call for break-out sessions at the 6th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality has appeared and we are eagerly anticipating proposals with new thinking about ancient themes reverberating through the human journey through time. To get your creative juices flowing, I’ve organized ideas the Program Planning Committee has discussed in our conference calls.
As you think about these questions, consider how they apply to elders of different faith traditions; we want this conference to address a wide variety of ways of experiencing and practicing spirituality. Also, we want to be inclusive in terms of the life situations of older adults. Thus, we’re interested in hearing about healthy, active Baby Boomers confronting paradox and promise as well as frail elders coping with challenges to their bodies, minds, and spirits.
1. What are the various ways elders navigate the spiritual challenges of life’s transitions? These challenges include the vocational discernment associated with retirement, the identity issues raised by becoming a care partner for a loved one, the changes brought by relocation to elder housing, and the gains and losses that accompany movement into hospice care. We’d be interested in hearing about research on these and related topics, as well as programs developed to support elders in these transitions.
2. What rituals and spiritual practices are helpful to older adults? For example, have you studied or worked with elders using walking (or rolling) meditation in labyrinths? Can you share insights on forms of prayer that are particularly meaningful to elders? Do you have information to share about pilgrimage traditions in different faith traditions that engage older people?
Walking the Labyrinth
at Chartres Cathedral
3. What are the promises offered by intergenerational programs focusing on spirituality? These might be happening in congregations or in programs not associated with a particular faith community. How do people of different generations and life experiences inform and inspire one another to grow spiritually?
4. What is the role of spirituality in counseling and psychotherapy for older people? Can a spiritual focus help individuals come to terms with living on the cusp of promise and paradox as they age? How can spiritual resiliency be nurtured through counseling and psychotherapy, pastoral care, support programs, etc.?
5. How can participation in spiritual autobiography groups be helpful to elders, including those who have dementia? What insights do people gain from doing the work of spiritual autobiography or reminiscence?
6. How can engagement with the arts support the spiritual journey of later life? What is the role of playfulness and creativity in late life spiritual development?
7. How do spiritual experiences and practices change through the course of aging? For example, we would be interested in learning about the impact of movement into retirement communities on spiritual life. What challenges arise when people become care partners and/or frail as they try to stay connected to faith communities? Why do some elders turn away from religious and spiritual practices? What trajectories might we expect from the baby boom cohort?
These are just a few possible topics that might be addressed in breakout sessions. We hope they’ll inspire you to consider how you can contribute to what we hope will be a rich and meaningful conversation about spirituality and aging around the world.