BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
Uplifting perspective on ageing
, June 7, 2014
RICH IN YEARS:
Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life
by Johann Christoph Arnold
(Elsmore, NSW: The Plough Publishing)
Paperback: 182 pages
Reviewed by Val Prendergast
At first glance this book looks like a light read; but don’t be deceived. It contains profound insights into life’s journey and provides surprises and delights along the way.
The author of this gem of a book, Johann Christoph Arnold, is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof (German for place of brothers), a movement of Christian communities which has spread worldwide.
A true and fervent disciple of Christ, Johann Christoph Arnold is a noted speaker and award-winning author on the subjects of marriage, parenting and aged care.
Arnold has lived a rich and varied life. Both he and his wife Verena are relationship counsellors, who also tackle end-of-life issues. He has worked with many high school students, helping them to pursue reconciliation through forgiveness. Armed with this message of reconciliation, he has travelled widely in areas of conflict such as Rwanda and the Middle East.
The Bruderhof movement too has an interesting history. Like the Amish and Mennonites, it can trace its spiritual origins to the Anabaptists of the 16th century. The Bruderhof was founded in 1920 in Germany by Eberhard Arnold, Johann Christoph Arnold’s grandfather. Its foundation is faith in the Lord, with His teachings as the active centre of the lives of the followers. Of especial significance to them are the command to love one another, the Sermon on the Mount, non-violence, faithfulness in marriage and love for the poor.
As one can appreciate, Germany of the 1920s and 1930s was not a particularly safe place for Christian communities in general, and especially for ones professing non-violence. Consequently, after Hitler came to power, the Bruderhof was expelled from Germany. By 1938, all members were living in England, spreading later to South America, North America and Australia, with some of them returning to Germany after the war.
With such a rich and diverse existence over the past century, this community has lived and continues to live at the Christian coal-face.
Within this religious heritage, and weaving his own life tapestry as he attempts to live the Christian way, Arnold has gathered all the threads of his experiences together into a deeply moving and engaging series of books on life and its joys and struggles, of which Rich in Yearsis but one.
And how appropriate is this book for us today! We seem to resist ageing gracefully in the Western world. Botox, plastic surgery, younger spouses, inappropriate attire — all these are symptomatic of modern Westerners seeking to prolong their youth indefinitely.
However, Arnold understands that life is a journey with a definite beginning and a definite ending. And, more than this, he realises that it doesn’t have to be a shallow, inwardly-absorbed journey focussed on material possessions and self.
From his profound Christian perspective, he knows that it is a journey to be shared with others in the service of the Lord, not alone and in despair, and a journey in which we can all stop along the way to help the stragglers. And, even more importantly, it is a journey from birth to the Lord. Maybe this is why Westerners are fixated on youthfulness and vitality: to avoid as long as possible the Day of Reckoning.
A book on ageing in less capable hands could easily have become depressing. But Arnold engages the reader with his wisdom and message of hope. In the book’s pages we hear from real people living out the end of their lives with dignity.
Not only will senior citizens in our communities appreciate the humour, gentleness and insights this book offers, but so too will those involved in caring for them.
Other noteworthy books by Johann Christoph Arnold are also available from Freedom Publishing: Why Forgive?, Why Children Matter and Sex, God and Marriage.
Val Prendergast is a member of the Victorian branch of the Australian Family Association.