Retirement offers time to tend to the spiritual side of life that often gets neglected in the overheated world of work.
“We have spent our whole lives working and building our careers, often at the expense of our families and personal relationships and worked long hours … boomers turned busyness into a virtue,” says Sheila Macgregor, lead minister and minister of worship and pastoral care at Siloam United Church in London, Ont.
“Now boomers are faced with the question ‘Who am I now that I no longer have the job? Who am I now without the title, or staff or colleagues? Who am I without the kids at home?’ ” adds Ms. Macgregor, who is also the author of Re-Designing Your Life: A Practical Spirituality for the Second Half of Life. “These are questions around identity and purpose … they’re fundamentally religious questions.”
Whether it involves traditional houses of worship or spiritual practice of various types, religion continues to be of interest to retirees.
A 2020 survey by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby shows 30 per cent of baby boomers “have no doubt” that God exists, 16 per cent have some doubts and 8 per cent believe sometimes. A further 22 per cent didn’t believe in “a personal God” but had faith in a higher power of some kind.
The boomer approach to faith
Ms. Macgregor says many boomers approach faith differently than their parents.
“I think boomers are anti-institutional and anti-doctrinal. They don’t want to be told what to believe and they don’t want to sit in church. They want to be the church,” she says.
In her experience, boomer congregation members prefer more active projects over potluck lunches and traditional bible study. For instance, her church has created a massive garden that produces fresh fruits and vegetables for food banks and people in need. Traditional bible study has been replaced by other practices such as prayer circles, meditation, drum circles and walking the labyrinth.
“You will see people moving around a lot. They’ll come and try out a church for a few years and then they’ll try something else. [Boomers] are kind of spiritual nomads and we pull from a lot of different traditions, even non-Christian traditions,” she says.
Her church is planning an event on Nov. 13 with guest speaker Richard Address, a Philadelphia-area rabbi who wrote Seekers of Meaning: Baby Boomers, Judaism and the Pursuit of Healthy Aging.
Rabbi Address says spirituality often grows as people age and realize they have enough “stuff.”
“There’s a transition from ‘I need to acquire more material things’ to ‘I really need to acquire spiritual things in my life,’” he says.
Some people repress that transition because confronting mortality can be troubling, he says, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that transition for some people. Rabbi Address says some congregations have asked him to come and talk about mortality.
And while the pandemic has kept many people away from in-person services, he says Zoom and other video services have empowered spirituality seekers to find their communities online.
Spirituality improves well-being
Spirituality isn’t just good for the soul but also helps improve our health as we age, says Jane Kuepfer, Schlegel specialist in spirituality and aging at the Conrad Grebel University College at University of Waterloo.
“[It can help] how we see ourselves, other people, how we value life,” says Ms. Kuepfer, who works with seniors in retirement homes.
Religions, with their routines of prayer and ritual, can fill other needs, Ms. Kuepfer says.
“It gives a rhythm to life,” she says. “In retirement, when you lose the other rhythms of life, one’s spiritual practice can provide that.”
Meditation is one form of spirituality that some boomers embrace. Some who tried it when they were younger are coming back to it later in life, says Janice Darling, president of the Calgary Insight Meditation Centre.
She cautions the practice – at least at her centre – can be difficult, with introspection, reflection, silence and solitude that bring up difficult thoughts and emotions. Still, she believes it has many benefits.
“One is a new relationship with our suffering and how to understand our suffering and find a freedom from suffering,” she says.
And it’s not always a solitary activity, which is what attracts members.
“It does involve individual practice but, in our group, we have a book club, monthly meetings of practitioners and we offer non-residential weekend retreats and week-long retreats,” Ms. Darling says.
It’s well-suited for retirees who have more time for study and retreats, while offering some of the freedom they’re looking for in their non-working years.
“This is not the practice where you’re told what to think and what to do,” she says.