ContemplAgeing

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Jane Thibault

PhotoJMTThe most steadfast, continuous aspect of my life has been my search for God.  My active spiritual quest began after my parents died when I was in my mid-teens.

Brought up Catholic, I was given a home by my Jewish English teacher and became profoundly appreciative of Judaism.  After a period of deep grief and questioning the meaning of my own life, I discovered the works of the Cistercian (Trappist) monk of Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, Thomas Merton.

Reading Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation opened my eyes to the existence of contemplative prayer, which was an entirely new concept for me-a very different way of relating to God. The discipline of meditation and contemplative practice gave my daily life ultimate meaning, and set my life on its current course.

Mistakenly thinking that one had to become a cloistered nun to live a contemplative life, I believed I was called to become a Carmelite nun.  With the help of a wise spiritual director I realized that was not my vocation, but that contemplative prayer is. I joined the Secular Carmelites at the age of 19 and am currently president of the Secular Carmelite Community of the Compassionate Spirit in Louisville, Kentucky.

My quest led me to marry Ron Fryrear -a Methodist-who is lay leader of Gateway United Methodist  Church in Louisville.  I attend both Methodist and Catholic services and find that I need the sacramental gifts of the Catholic Church and the emphasis on fellowship of the Methodists. I consider myself an “ecumenical Christian,” and am trained as a spiritual director.  In that role I “sit” with people of all (and no) denominations.

My quest also led me to work with older adults. After discovering the vast body of writing on contemplative prayer, I wanted to ‘hang out’ with mystics and naively thought that old age would naturally bring with it the heights of mystical prayer. So I decided to study gerontology/psychology with the intent to delve more deeply into the way life with God ‘plays out’ over the lifespan, particularly in old age.

I received a PhD from the University of Chicago, specializing in clinical gerontology and went to work as faculty in the Department of Family and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine where I have been since 1981. In my early research on spiritual development in later life I quickly learned that old age did not necessarily bring with it the heights of spiritual life, but that older adults do often experience deep spiritual crises corresponding to the many changes of old age.

Since that discovery I have focused on studying spiritual development in later life and caring for and encouraging elders with spiritual and religious concerns via counseling, retreats, and workshops.  I have written four books related to aging, spirituality and aging, and religious and spiritual aspects of human service provision.  When needed I teach the Aging and Pastoral Care course at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and am a mentor for the Doctor of Ministry in Spirituality and Aging Program at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

My passion is teaching the psycho-spiritual-behavioral practice of “Dedicated Suffering,” an intervention for people with unmitigated pain and suffering.  It’s an updating of the old devotional practice once known (and now the object of much laughter) “offering up” one’s sufferings.

 

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