Bellingham writer Luci Shaw explores life in her eighties in her newest book, "Adventure of Ascent; Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey."
The author of more than 30 books of poems and non-fiction from a Christian perspective, Shaw remains active despite the onset of arthritis and assorted other ailments of aging.
Hers is an admirable, well-rounded life full of friends, faith, family, and her prolific and award-winning writing career. Now 85 - although Shaw says that inside she feels about 40 - she shows little sign of slowing down much.
Question: Describe briefly your goal in writing the book.
Answer: I wrote out of a desire to show that one can live a full, fruitful life even after 80. I have a sense that younger generations avoid the topic of aging and mortality, perhaps from fear, but also largely because dying is in some distant, unimaginable future.
I want to provide a different understanding of what it's like to get old and keep going. That it can be an ongoing adventure. That it takes purpose-fulness. Body may wither, and I cannot downplay the physical diminishments. Mind may attenuate, but the essential spirit continues and may even flourish.
Q: The title is "Adventure of Ascent." Ascent to what?
A: Aging is often thought of as being "over the hill." I'd like to change the prospect to "climbing up the mountain." I prefer the imagery of scaling a mountain range and describing both the amazing views and the difficulties of struggling up steep inclines. I long to summit into God's presence. My book uses some mountaineering terminology to flesh out what it looks like and feels like to clamber higher (read, "older" and possibly "wiser").
Q: Your write that you were raised as a conservative Christian. Are you less so now?
A: I can say confidently that I'm a more authentic Christian than I've been in the past! My understanding of faith is larger and more open to divine grace than to a more narrow or legalistic interpretation of Christian faith.
I've sometimes said that faith is "a widening of the imagination." Faith is putting our confidence in something or someone larger than we are, and sharing that trust by acting in love and generosity to others, as Jesus did. Faith enlarges more than it restricts. And it takes us through the hard places.
Q: You are an award-winning poet and the author of many books, yet in the book you wonder if your achievements will have a long life after your death. Where does that worry spring from?
A: With all the millions of books in print, what chance does a single author have of influencing readers far into the future? I love the way words and ideas survive the centuries and can continue to illuminate us.
But cultural, technological and intellectual, as well as religious movements, are shifting with exponential speed. Of course, I hope that my books will continue to find readers, but I have to let that go and allow them the possibility of dropping seeds of insight here and there.
Q: You remain physically, socially and intellectually active. What advice do you have for fellow senior citizens struggling to stay active and positive?
A: Arthritis isn't fun, but Tylenol is my constant friend! I keep doing what I love, what energizes me, and the rewards are significant. Music. Art. Gardening is a joy to me because green and color mean growth and life. Tent-camping and sailing put me in intimate touch with the natural world. The annual renewal of the seasons fascinates me.
Being part of a church family at St. Paul's Episcopal Church brings constant joy and support and friendship. I love working with our church alms ministry to offer help to Bellingham street people. It blesses my soul.
Q: You write about "the ultimate despair of mortality." Given that we all die, why do you use the word "despair? "
A: Perhaps it's a response to the sense of our human helplessness in the face of inevitable death. I've got to be realistic. And there's a very human part of me, the component that would love my wonderful earthly life to continue forever, that cringes at the thought that no matter what defenses I put up, I will die, and the circumstances will be beyond my control.
Q: Do you believe in an afterlife?
A: I anticipate ongoing life in heaven after death, but there's not a lot of information about what that will be like! The biblical metaphors of pearly gates and streets of gold describe something beyond human experience, and the reports back to Earth have been minimal.
It's such an unknown mode of existence that I'm not as comfortable with it as I should be. I'm being terribly candid here, but want to be as transparent as I am in my book, about feelings and fears as well as confidence and freedom.
Q: Is belief in an afterlife necessary for a person to lead an ethical life?
A: Whether we are religious or not, human beings all seem to have a strong, built-in sense of right and wrong that nudges us to live ethically. Unfortunately the hunger for power often undercuts that moral imperative.
But when, as Christians, we hold ourselves accountable to God for our actions, the motivation to love and forgive as Christ did is mightily strengthened.
What: Luci Shaw reads from "Adventure of Ascent."
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 31.
Where: Village Books, 1200 11th St., Bellingham.
Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-229 or firstname.lastname@example.org .