According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “to retire” means, among other things, “withdraw, go away, retreat”. Retreat, in the Catholic context, is a fairly familiar word and, for many, a familiar experience. It is a time to go away somewhere quiet and withdraw from everyday life for a period in order to reflect and re-evaluate what one’s life is about and where it may be heading. A retreat, in this sense, is a great blessing and mercy, as many people find when they “go on retreat”. Retirement is an opportunity to go on retreat on a much larger scale, for a much longer time, and to assess life’s journey on a much more serious level.
As for time, there is chronos time with which we are daily familiar; sun rising and setting; night and day succeeding each other; clocks ticking to mark the hours. There is, in the Greek language, another form of time called kairos time, which is sacred time, and it exists outside the boundaries of chronos time. Sacred time happens when ‘rightness’ occurs; love is exchanged; hearts, minds and spirits meet in harmony and understanding; peace reigns. Kairos time is surely one of the great mercies of life and its instances are not easily forgotten.
When nearing what the government, or circumstance, decrees is retirement age, one faces some fundamental life choices. One can look solely to chronos time, focus on time passing and view it as the waiting room for death, which is now closer on the horizon. One can fear the loss of “busyness” and try to fill the gap. One can throw oneself into a “new career” such as looking after grandchildren, travelling the world, volunteering for one’s church, sport or one of the many worthy charities. There are many instances throughout history of people who have embarked on amazing and wonderful new enterprises after they have been thought to be approaching life’s end. The freedom of retirement appears to have energised them in a creative way. Abraham and Sarah had a son, Grandma Moses took up painting and Albert Schweitzer went to Africa as a missionary.
Another approach is to appreciate the gift of kairos time and savour and enjoy ordinary life as a “new” experience. One can learn to live as Michael Leunig urges, in his Curly Pyjama Letters. In answer to Vasco Pyjama’s question, “What is worth doing and what is worth having?” Mr Curly replies, “It is worth doing nothing and it is worth having a rest. In spite of all the difficulty it may cause, you MUST rest Vasco – otherwise you will become RESTLESS!”
In our frenetic society, resting is viewed in pejorative terms as laziness. It is unproductive, of no commercial value. It has become something of a lost art. However, resting is like a retreat, it refreshes the body and clears the mind and allows you to focus on the essentials of life, whatever you consider they may be. It is, as Shakespeare says of mercy, “twice blessed. It blesseth him [sic] who gives and him [sic] who takes.” A person who is truly rested is of great value to society. Rest brings calm and calm allows thoughtfulness and thoughtfulness often leads to positive and beneficial acts and action.
Retirement is an opportunity to take kairos time. Time to stroll everywhere, time to look around and notice the world and its goings on, time to stand back and allow others space, time to say out loud that encouraging word, admiring remark or helpful reply. These are small things to do, perhaps, but in simple, ordinary, low key acts of kindness and consideration, some light, some relief from a burden, some pleasure is given to others. This is a mercy! A blessing! A sacred moment for God’s kingdom!
Mercy is always available. It is there to be given and to be taken. Both chronos and kairos time will yield opportunities and occasions of mercy for the one with a listening ear, an open look and a compassionate heart. The secret of retirement, as it is of life, is to get the balance right.
Retirement is another season of life. Like every season it has its own particular flavour. The aim of this reflection is to try to capture the particular ‘mercy flavour’ of the retirement season of life. As a retiree, the greatest mercy of retirement is to have time and, hopefully, the capacity to use that gift wisely and well. Leunig offers a prayer which might well be the prayer for those who are blessed to be able to withdraw, retreat and retire.
God help us to live slowly:
To move simply:
To look softly:
To allow emptiness:
To let the heart create for us.
Michael Leunig The Curly Pyjama Letters Viking 2001 Common Prayer Collection CollinsDove 1993.