When you hold this Magazine in your hand autumn has arrived.  The warm and sunny summer days are over.  The days are getting shorter and colder.  Yet, each season of the year has a fascination.  But we do not have these seasons only around us but also within us.  For you can compare these four seasons to the stages of life.  Then, spring can be seen as a symbol of youth; summer of adulthood; autumn of retired life and winter represents old age living in the shadow of death.  Each age has like the seasons of the year its advantages and disadvantages, its
chances and challenges.

As a young person you mainly have to learn what you need in your life and to find your own way.  As an adult you are responsible for a family.  But whereas it is not so difficult to define the tasks of young age and adulthood, it is nowadays much more difficult to speak about the role of an old person.  For we live in a time that has set youth on the throne.  Everybody wants to look young and attractive.  But as an old person you cannot defy the truth that your body is getting weaker leaving you only limited opportunities.  But that exactly is the chance of old age. For when the physical dimension of life wanes then the spiritual dimension could come more into focus.  Who was traditionally the religious teacher of a young person?   It was not so much the father or mother or priest, it was the

To understand this let us look at Rembrandt’s painting Old Woman Reading that I have recently seen on a visit to Drumlanrig Castle.  It is a fascinating painting.  It takes some time to decipher it, because the darkness is very dominant in it.  Normally, when you have a portrait then the face is painted in a way that you can easily recognise it. But that is different here.  It seems that Rembrandt was not so much interested in the personality of this woman – we do not know the name of this woman – it is enough for him to identify her as an old woman.  But then what is at the centre of his painting, what is it about?

Often in Rembrandt’s paintings he is very much interested in painting light.  It seems as if the light comes out of the book that she is reading.  It could be that the book is reflecting the light that comes from a window, but it also could be that the book itself is the source of light.

Rembrandt does not identify the book.  But we know that Rembrandt often painted biblical persons and stories. Although he was not churchy, there was no book for him like the Bible.  Moreover, the word “Bible” is a transliteration of the Greek word biblos, meaning “book”.  So the bible is, quite simply, “The Book”.  It seems that Rembrandt is interested in the Bible as the book that gives light in the darkness.  For Jesus as the word of God is the light of the world and so the book that contains his words also serves as a source of light.  The main actor in this painting is not the old woman but the light that shines through this book.  It is not so much that the woman who holds the book as that the book that holds her and enlightens her.

The old woman is surrounded by darkness and seems to be alone.  That is underpinned by her hood that like a monk’s hood helps her to avoid distractions.  She is only focused on the book in her hands.  So, she becomes an image of the essence of old age.  When you are young or an adult you cannot avoid being concerned with the
life around you.  Simply your studies or your responsibilities in family and work bring you in connection with the community and world around you.  That is the time of many chances but also of many ways to distract you from your goal in life.  Using what is physically given to you, you tend to forget the spiritual dimension of your life.  Old
age can help you to see more clearly what really matters in life.  There are many ways how we try to bring brightness into our life, but ultimately only one book and one person can bring the light that is even mightier than death.  It is the chance of old age to make the younger people look behind the veil of this life and to see the world in a spiritual way.

All generations need each other.  And I think in our world that is often blind for the spiritual dimension we need especially the old generation.  Elderly people are more important than they often think.  They can teach wisdom that comes through life experience.  But it is best when you can keep all these stages in your life together.

What do I mean?  Just look at the seasons of the year.  We do not experience them once and for all, but they come again and again.  And here in Scotland with its special climate you can even experience all four seasons in one day!  In the same way you can experience all life stages in one day.  Even as an old person you can try to try new ways.  Just think of Abraham who left his home venturing into unknown lands.  And even in old age you can be productive like Sarah who became pregnant with Isaac when she was ninety years old.  And as a young man you can ask for wisdom like Solomon as he became king.  So, we should always try to combine all the different life stages.  In order to learn this, it is always helpful to associate with people of different ages.  Young people make you open-minded and engaging, old people make you wise and distanced from the distractions of this world. Young people show you what is physically possible and old people what is spiritually possible.

In this way, Rembrandt’s painting can help us to learn how to approach the Bible.  When you hold the Bible in your hands, then this turns the tables.  In fact, the Bible reads you and God’s word holds you.  We are not the masters of the Bible, but the Bible is the master of our life.  You can of course close the Bible and leave it in a corner.  But the Bible never leaves you.  It is a mystery, but the Bible bursts through all our concepts of time and space.  And even stories that happened many years ago become present touching our lives.  When you look into the Bible then you look into the heart of God, the heart of this world.  And that is why this book finally wants to speak to our hearts. What is exactly in the centre of this painting?  It is the heart of the woman.  For that is why God created this world
and sent his own son into this world: to touch our hearts.  “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:9)