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Bruderhof pastor writes book about aging

Daily Freeman (dailyfreeman.com), Serving the Hudson Valley since 1871

 

 

RIFTON. N.Y. -- Writing, with joy and without regret, the senior pastor of the Bruderhof community navigates the perils and pleasures of aging in his new book, “Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life.”

The author of 10 other books, including last year’s “Why Children Matter,” Pastor Johann Christoph Arnold said he wasn’t eager to put pen to paper again, but something changed his mind.

“Writing a book is a huge amount of work in time and effort. I thought I had done my share,” Arnold said this week in the cozy apartment he shares with his wife, Verena, who is co-contributor to his books and proof reads them with extraordinary care.

“Verena catches errors the professional editors miss,” Arnold said with great affection.

“It’s teamwork,” Verena said.  “Not just proofreading the book, which I did, but everything

“What changed my mind,” Arnold said, “is realizing that Verena and I are in that age group and I might as well get acquainted with the issues facing us, but do something positive about it.”

Arnold is the grandson of Eberhard Arnold, who founded the Bruderhof community in 1920. His grandfather spent the last two years of his life suffering from a leg injury that would lead to his death, while attempting to shepherd his flock to safety just as the Nazis were gaining ascendancy.  He died in 1935.

Following the teachings of Jesus, as interpreted by his grandfather, Arnold is senior pastor of the Bruderhof, an international communal movement that practices forgiveness, non-violence, simplicity, service and sharing.

Arnold, born in Britain in 1940 to German refugees, spent his youth in South America, where his parents found asylum during World War II. His family immigrated to the U.S. in 1955, settling in Ulster County. Arnold graduated from Kingston High School in 1959.

Arnold is a noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting and end-of-life issues, counseling, with Verena, thousands of individuals and families in the past 40 years.

Arnold started the Breaking the Cycle program, with paralyzed police officer Steven McDonald, working with students in hundreds of public high schools to foster reconciliation through forgiveness. He is chaplain to the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office.

He and Verena have eight children and 42 grandchildren.

Arnold said writing his 11th book took about six months.

The 157-page book, published by Plough Publishing, has 11 chapters, covering topics, such as, combatting loneliness, finding purpose, living with dementia, finding peace, saying goodbye, beginning anew.

Arnold said there are many elders living in Ulster County, who are alone and lonely, who need the most encouragement as they face their older years.

“The more I got into the book, the more excited I became as we began collecting stories of these incredible older people,” he said.

“I also wanted to prove that I’m able to do what I’ve always done when nothing was impossible. But, age is catching up with me. I’m 73 and sometimes I run out of steam,” Arnold said with good humor.

Working on the book, however, opened Arnold to opportunities he said he would never have dreamt of having.

“As the book evolved, I read each chapter to our community. We have a number of older members here,” Arnold said.

“The seniors said I was describing exactly what was going on with them and they started sharing their stories,” he said.

“What wonderful stories they told!” he said.

Speaking fervently about forgiveness, Arnold said if anger against another person lingers in the heart, it’s like a cancer that will devour the spirit.

“It consumes a person. We think about it all the time. We dream about it. We can’t be ourselves. We become angry and bitter,” he said.

“When we forgive someone, we’re not doing that person a favor. We’re doing ourselves a favor. We are freeing ourselves,” Arnold said.

“But, first, we must forgive ourselves and that’s the hardest thing to do,” Arnold said. “It’s never too late to turn ourselves around,” he said.

“Forgiveness has such power to give freedom and joy,” Arnold said.

“One act of forgiveness has a ripple effect. We may never know how many people will have been affected by it,” Arnold said.

“Forgiveness can make our whole society different,” he said.

Arnold said the book’s title grew from the wealth of stories he cultivated from people he knew and admired. He said several titles were suggested, but he’s quite pleased with the final one.

“Wealth is the richness of our hearts. It’s better than a bank account,” Arnold said.

“Following our hearts, loving other people, being a listener, doing something for someone else, taking time for children – that’s better than money in the bank,” he said.

Arnold noted that Americans fill to overflowing their houses, their garages, renting storage units to fill with more stuff.

“Even if you have millions, billions, you can’t take it with you to heaven,” he said.

A man of a profound and abiding faith, Arnold questioned how those without faith manage when their life plans don’t go as planned.

“When we face our own mortality, suddenly priorities change,” Arnold said. “We remember what we were taught as a child. We remember Jesus,” he said.

“Jesus is universal,” Arnold said firmly. “He is not a religious possession. He belongs to everyone.”

Arnold spoke personally and passionately about prayer.

“Prayer is a cry from the heart to G-d,” Arnold said. “And, all prayers are answered, but perhaps not in the way we expected,” he said.

“Prayer is the most powerful weapon we are given. We don’t need to fold our hands or fall to our knees. We just need to look to Him. We will be heard,” he said.

Arnold cites in the book advice from Pope Benedict XVI to men and women in a home for the elderly in Rome.

“Pope Benedict said the prayers of the elderly can protect the world. He urged them to pray with faith and constancy,” Arnold said.

“When I recalled this, I got very excited! Older people who are sick or bedridden think they are useless. But, this is the most important time of their lives and they hold a very powerful weapon – prayer,” he said.

“The prayers of the elderly can save a nation,” Arnold said.

Coupling prayer with the subtitle of the book, Arnold said peace is a visceral experience to be felt, not just in the mind, but the whole body.

“Everything changes. With peace, we can face adversity with courage,” he said.

Verena, who was sitting quietly, spoke softly of the couple’s oldest daughter, Margrit, hospitalized with advanced cancer at Albany Medical Center.

“She has been a month in the hospital, fighting for her life,” Verena said. “But, the doctors, the nurses – everyone – speaks of the peace she has about her situation,” she said.

“Margrit does not know how this will be. But, she is at peace, ready to accept G-d’s plan for her,” Verena said.

The couple asked for prayers for their daughter’s recovery.

“Jesus promised the gift of peace to everyone,” Arnold said. “It’s especially important, as we grow older, to let go of the hurts and grudges. To find that promised gift.”