The human body is inexorably aging, but is the soul? How does the soul measure itself by a different standard than the body? If we focus on the state of our soul—which is resolutely vibrant, cheerful, and full of zest for life—we wouldn’t resist aging but, instead, speak of growing fulfillment and joy.
Bible Gateway interviewed Notker Wolf about his book, Aging Starts in Your Mind: You’re Only As Old As You Feel (Paraclete Press, 2017).
You’re 77 years old. Explain what you mean: “the soul doesn’t age; it measures itself by a different standard than the body.”
Notker Wolf: The soul is the ongoing identity in our life and is expressed in our body. The body may age, but the whole personality has to grow; become more mature. Our soul has to be flexible and adapt to the different situations during our lifetime. The qualities of our body may be strength, beauty, but we may also fall sick and our soul has to cope with it. The changes of our body may be a challenge, but our personality can look at them in a different perspective of values such as love or sincerity. You have to live in your body and in the same time to remain in a constant distance or reflection. The unity of both is a mystery.
How is aging better accomplished when a person focuses on the state of his or her soul?
Notker Wolf: People who accept their aging process are not striving to uplifting continuously their faces and other parts of their body or implanting hairs into their head. In the end they are no longer themselves; they are looking like wearing masks. You’ll find the real beauty of a person when you can see his or her history from his or her face; when life has marked their faces and you can read their history from their faces. Those people have more time to live reconciled with themselves. They are serene.
What do you mean “freedom is a beautiful gift of old age”?
Notker Wolf: The older you get the more you can let go, in a material sense—you can give away many things you were once clinging to; the less you need the freer you will be. And in a spiritual sense, many things and opinions become less important.
How do the psalms show you new examples of how firmly you’re anchored in your faith, and how do they give you energy at the start of the day?
Notker Wolf: The psalms are expressions of our daily life, with its sorrow, needs, oppressions and depressions, but also with its joys, and all in front of God. The psalmist sees his life in front of God; a loving, merciful God who takes care of us, but also challenges us. Psalms are songs and this gives a special taste to my life. They create confidence in God and my life.
Why is the Apostle Paul one of your heroes and how should his words in Philippians 3:13-14 be an encouragement in the aging process?
Notker Wolf: The older I get, the more I’m looking forward, not to great projects but to the end of my life and the fulfillment of my hope to see Jesus face to face and to live in his glory together with the others who have gone before me.
How should the principle of “seek first the kingdom” be central in the aging process?
Notker Wolf: I’m sure we would become more realistic—and more human—if we would give up our money mindedness and our power greed. What will remain in the end? It’s sufficient watching some of those rich and powerful people. Are they really happy? In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus tells us that God will take care of us. Trust in God is more rewarding than trusting in ourselves and our actions. And nobody will dominate us except God; nor shall we dominate others.
Notker Wolf: Long life in the old times was seen as a special blessing of God. The aged biblical patriarchs are reported as being close to God and manifest the eternity of God. Being close to God, living in unity with him is our aim whatever age we reach. Jesus reached only 33 years. He lived in complete union with his heavenly Father and gave his life for humankind. If you really love God and the others, age does not matter.
How should people honor their father and mother as they get older?
Notker Wolf: By taking care of their fragility. Love them as the roots of your existence in body and mind. Reward them with your love. And when you feel that they have done something wrong in your childhood or later, forgive them; live reconciled with your parents.
How do you hope your book will challenge your readers?
Notker Wolf: My hope is that the readers get aware of the real values of life and get inspired to reflect upon their own behavior when they’re getting older. They’ll see that our life does not end with death but that we’re people of hope. In the end, God is waiting for us.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Notker Wolf: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) We don’t see the inside of other people. Judging entails so much anger, hatred, and, in the end, war. And who are we that we are allowed to judge other people? God alone is the judge.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Notker Wolf: The websites are excellent; exemplary.
Bio: Notker Wolf, OSB, PhD, Abbot Primate emeritus, born 1940 in Southern Bavaria, joined the Archabbey of St. Ottilien in 1961, was ordained priest in 1968. Studies of Philosophy in S. Anselmo in Rome, Theology and Natural Sciences at Munich University. 1971-77 Professor of Philosophy of Nature and Theory of Science in Rome, 1977 elected Archabbot of St. Ottilien, 2000-2016 Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation. Honourable doctor degrees from Saint Anselm College, NH, and Saint Vincent College, PA. Several political and economic awards. Hobbies: Flute, Electric Guitar; languages.
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