The Spiritual Dimension of Aging, Second Edition
Elizabeth MacKinley (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017, 392 pages, softcover, Kindle)
This book springs from decades of the author’s research. It is part literature review, part methodological rational, and part theory. The first edition of this work was printed in 2001 and focused on the author’s research in 1998 on “75 people living independently in the community over the age of 65 years” (67). The second edition contains a more recent study of baby boomers conducted in 2013. It includes an expansion of some chapters and the inclusion of four new chapters. A brief chapter on dementia (chapter 17) is part of the new material.
The author builds on the work of others who propose the refining of our understanding of adulthood to include an expanded continuum between work, post-family, retirement, and physical decline. She proposes “…that there are spiritual needs that often become more relevant and important as people grow older and there are close links between the aging body, mind, and spirit” (32). To elucidate this understanding, MacKinley proposes a model that includes six spiritual themes (72-73) and five tasks of aging (115). Although the participant samples for the studies had serious limitations (67-70, 85), MacKinley writes, “The model used here is a generic one that can be adapted to a variety of contexts. For example, the model can be applied to an individual who is a Christian, a member of another religion, a humanist, an agnostic, or an individual whose centres of meaning may be a variety of other aspects, such as relationship, music and so forth” (115).
This work is a presentation of research-based findings and inductively-derived theory. It is not a descriptive overview or one person’s understanding of aging and spirituality. It is more dissertation than devotional. It is geared for the practitioner who is looking to ground every day practice in research. But it is not all theory or subject sample descriptions. There is practical information as well. For example, there is a nice paragraph on the ethics of praying with patients (30), as well as an extended discussion of the value of reminiscence and spiritual life review (142-153). Changing relationship with God through out aging (214-215) and the need to move from an identity based in being rather than doing are (226) also part of the discussion.
In short, this is not Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward. It is, however, a valuable research-based contribution to our understanding of aging and spirituality. Don’t read one or the other, read both. Your practice will be the better for it.
Reviewed by Vicki G. Lumpkin PhD BCC, Chaplain, Hospice of Rockingham County, Reidsville, NC.