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The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully Hardcover – May 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Well-known in Catholic circles for her willingness to take on anybody-even the pope-in defense of women's rights, Chittister, now in her 70s, examines how it feels "to be facing that time of life for which there is no career plan." Clearly, getting older has not diminished the controversial nun, activist, lecturer and author of nearly 40 books on feminism, nonviolence and Benedictine wisdom. This collection of inspirational reflections, "not meant to be read in one sitting, or even in order, but one topic at a time," abounds in gentle insights and arresting aphorisms: "'Act your age' can be useful advice when you're seventeen; it's a mistake when you're seventy-seven." Beginning each short chapter with a trenchant quotation ("'It takes a long time,' Pablo Picasso wrote, 'to become young'"), she ponders topics such as fear, mystery, forgiveness and legacy. Old age is rich for those who choose to thrive, not wither: "We can recreate ourselves in order to be creative in the world in a different way than the boundaries of our previous life allowed."
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"Clearly, getting older has not diminished the controversial nun, activist, lecturer and author of nearly 40 books on feminism, nonviolence and Benedictine wisdom. This collection of inspirational reflections, 'not meant to be read in one sitting, or even in order, [but] one topic at a time,' abounds in gentle insights and arresting aphorisms."  —Publishers Weekly


"Chittister beautifully downplays regrets and accents the rewards of a mature life. While she acknowledges the pain of old age, she focuses on the new beginnings that life can offer at this stage. . . . Excellent information and would make a positive contribution to any public library's collection."  —Library Journal



"Joan Chittister is one of the great spiritual teachers of our generation."  —Lawrence Kushner, author, Kabbalah: A Love Story



"A prophetic voice that is desperately needed in our troubled time."  —Karen Armstrong, author, The Great Transformation



"It's the best book I have read on the subject of aging, a dazzling work radiant with gems of insight on every page. It will be my spiritual reading in the days ahead."  —Andrew Greeley, author, The Great Mysteries


"Brims with insight, pluck, verve and courage. . . . It shows us both the joys and the challenges of growing older, and encourages us to discover the deep spiritual meaning that can come with older age."  —Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking


"An amazing compendium of wisdom not only for people facing aging or providing support, but for everyone who wants to live a spiritually centered and balanced life."  —Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun Magazine


"In a world that glorifies youth and degrades old age, the words of Joan Chittister about aging are a precious gift. Through numerous insights, she invites us to realize that old age is not a drawing away from a fulfilling life, but a new life unto itself."  —Seyyed Hossein Nasr, author, The Garden of Truth

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: BlueBridge; 1 edition (May 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933346108
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933346106
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (421 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joan Chittister, OSB (1936- ) is a Benedictine Sister of Erie, PA. She is the author of over 50 books--and has won fourteen Catholic Press Association Awards for them. In the fall of 2015 three books by Sister Joan will be published as well as the first biography of her. She authored: Two Dogs and a Parrot (BlueBridge), In God's Holy Light (Franciscan Media) and The Psalms: a dictionary of the human condition (Crossroad). The biography is by Tom Roberts--Joan Chittister: From Certainty to Faith (Orbis).

Last spring Random House published: Between the Dark and the Daylight and in the fall of 2014 Orbis Books released--Joan Chittister: The Essential Writings, which is a collection of the best from her many books, interviews and articles.

Sister Joan is an international speaker who inspires both her audiences and readers with her passion for justice, equality and peace, especially for women in both society and the church. She is a regular web columnist for the National Catholic Reporter (ncronline.org) and Huffington Post (Huffingtonpost.com). Her PhD is from Penn State University in Speech-Communication Theory, her masters from the University of Notre Dame. She serves as Executive Director of Benetvision, a research and resource center for contemporary spirituality. See the website joanchittister.org to follow her upcoming speaking engagements and latest news.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

332 of 341 people found the following review helpful By Patrice Fagnant-macarthur VINE VOICE on May 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
When "The Gift of Years" by Joan Chittister made its way to my mailbox for me to review, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Was I really the right person to be reviewing this? After all, I am in my thirties, transitioning from youth to middle age. I'm not quite ready for senior citizen status yet. As it turned out, "The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully" is a wonderful lesson in how to live, regardless of our chronological age.

Chittister, a Benedictine sister, is 70 years old. She suggests that she may actually be too young to write this book because life still has lessons left to offer. She "reserves the right to revise this edition when she is ninety." Chittister views how we life at any age to be a choice. We are each given the gift of today. It is up to us what we do with it. She counters the idea that old age need be a time of isolation and loneliness and uselessness. Rather, it can be a time of great connectedness and joy and purpose. It is a time for looking back, not with the pain of regret for opportunities lost, but with understanding of how the life that has been lived has meaning for who we are right now and what our future holds.

Chittister maintains that senior citizens have so much to offer to the world at large. Their wisdom and their stories and their experience are a great gift. They also have the time to get involved. Without the pressures of a 9-to-5 job or raising a family, they can volunteer more, make more of a difference. They have the chance to do all the things that they always wanted to do that there was never time for before. "Age does not forgive us our responsibility to give the world back to God a bit better than it was because we were here.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on December 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"The thing most wrong about this book," Joan Chittister tells us in this vibrant collection of essays on growing old, "is that I may be too young to write it. I am, after all, only seventy." She is, she tells us, among those whom gerontologists call the "young old," those who are sixty-five to seventy-four and may not yet have attained the ripest wisdom.

We are indeed fortunate that Chittister decided not to postpone the writing of The Gift of Years, for it is full of the grace of decades of thought and meditation. It is written not only for those of us who are among the old, but for everyone: we are all growing older, and all of us may eventually undertake the search for meaning and fulfillment that lies at the deepest heart of the aging process.

The Gift of Years is a full basket of rich gifts: forty-plus short essays on the many dimensions of eldering, "its purpose and its challenges, its struggles and its surprises." Each essay begins with words of wisdom from someone who has considered the meaning of growing old, then tells a brief story or an anecdote, offers a reflection, and invites us to participate in a meditation on the burden and blessing of the years.

In "Time," for instance, Chittister quotes Pablo Picasso: "It takes a long time to become young." There is an anecdote about a potter named Thomas, who at eighty had lived long enough "to release the beginner in himself again and again." There are reflections: time ages things; time deepens things; time ripens things. And then there is the meditation. The burden of years is allowing time to "hang heavy on my hands," Chittister writes; a blessing of years is to "realize what an important and lively time this final period is.
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128 of 148 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on October 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, has written over twenty-five books that map the terrain of the Christian life, with special attention paid to issues of feminism, international justice, the monastics, and reform in the Catholic Church. I've especially enjoyed Scarred By Struggle, Transformed By Hope (2003) based upon the Jacob narrative, Listen with the Heart (2003), and Called to Question (2004). In The Gift of Years she writes for a broader audience that is not necessarily Christian or even religious.

Now that she has passed her seventieth birthday, Chittister explores what it means to grow older gracefully. To do this she has written short (3-5 pages each) meditations on forty themes like regret, ageism, adjustment, letting go, sadness, solitude, success, etc. She begins each chapter with a pithy aphorism from a broad range of poets and prophets, both ancient and modern -- Plato and Picasso, Browning and Byron, Emily Dickinson and Jung. After the brief meditation, she summarizes the chapter by observing both the "burden" and the "blessing" of the theme under consideration. On the idea of the future, for example, she writes, "The burden of these years is to assume that the future is already over. A blessing of these years is to give another whole meaning to what it is to be alive, to be ourselves, to be full of life. Our own life."

Which is to say that much of my future of growing older is what I intentionally choose to make it. We all face the inexorable biology of the body and the deterioration of our physical condition. But we also enjoy the possibilities of the "eternity of the spirit" and the frame of mind we choose to follow. One can choose to age passively or actively, says Chittister.
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