“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Happy New Year!
This is part two of a series on sustaining health in the Covidian Era. My goal in these writings is to follow the outline that Jesus offers in the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength and to love our neighbors. What if rather than make resolutions for 2021, we grew in our resolve to be more loving humans in every dimension of our being and relationships?
While each of these spheres overlap in a unified oneness, it is easier to treat them individually.
In my last reflection, I examined cultivating a healthy body, or our physicality, (Hebrew מְאֹדֶֽךָ “mehode’” literally “muchness” “might” or “strength”). Here I will address another important facet of our humanity, the soul.
The soul eludes a simple definition. The Hebrew word is נַפְשְׁךָ֖ “nephesh” which can mean “self, life, creature, person, or living being” among other things. To oversimplify for our purposes, the soul is the essence of our being, that from which our personhood flows as human beings created in the image of God.
Unlike many other philosophical and religious systems, in the Judeo-Christian faith, the soul and body our inextricably linked. The Scriptures teach of bodily resurrection, not a disembodied life of the soul floating around somewhere (1 Cor 15:20).
The Bible offers an extended and fascinating vision of the soul. Here we will simply say God makes us a “soul” in the act of creation. “Then the Lord God formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life, and they became souls” and Jesus tells us the purpose of our soul is to “love God” with all of it (Genesis 2:7; Mark 12:30).
For Christians, we believe God is a relational God who created us to be in a harmonious relationship with Godself and each other. So, our central claim is that Jesus, who is mysteriously somehow fully-human, fully-God, comes to rescue us from ourselves, show us the way, and now as the ascended Lord, fills our souls with the deepest truth, and infuses us with divine life.
In the Digital Age, we attempt to fill the relational hole in our soul with all kinds of things, alcohol, relationships, food, wealth, and likes, loves, and retweets on our social media. But none of those things in any measure will ever fill that hole.
Here are nine ways you may consider nurturing a healthy soul:
1. Chose a Spiritual Path… and Follow It!
Particularly one that does not authorize violence on others who don’t believe the same way you do. Obviously, I have chosen to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, so my reflections emerge from a Judeo-Christian worldview. However, I am open to the reality that God is also reaching out gracefully to all humanity through other religious paths as well.
Most spiritual paths emphasize that the soul needs healing, direction, formation, or escape, depending on the path you chose. For Christians, we believe God created us for relationship. Somewhere along the line, we have willfully severed that relationship, and in so doing our souls have become “deformed” in a sense.
Thus, we don’t live into the fullness of what we were created to be without some help. Jesus must be understood in the greater story of Israel; a people God chose to reveal himself to all the world. Jesus shows us that God is love, and that loving God and neighbor is God’s original design and intent for all humanity. Soul formation for Christians, is all about loving God and loving neighbor, and when we say “neighbor” we mean the entire human community of every race, tribe, nation, and culture.
Jesus restores the fragmentation of that relationship.
So you might be saying, “I think lots of Christians didn’t get the memo about the loving all people part.” It’s true that there are many versions of Christianity, but any that don’t shape us to become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous souls are foreign to the life and teaching of Jesus.
It’s important that whatever spiritual path we chose, we actually live it. Faith must shape behavior. Our culture is rampant with duplicity and hypocrisy, its time for a change, and the change starts with each one of us individually… today.
2. Syncing Our Soul with the Rhythms of God’s Soul
Did you know God has a soul? God’s soul can be “pleased” and “take delight” (Matthew 12:18). The human soul can be truly healthy, only when it is synced with the soul of the creator. We don’t have to guess what the rhythm of God’s soul is either; he put flesh on in Jesus.
Jesus lived a rhythm of advance and retreat, ebb and flow. That life was founded on sabbath, prayer, and meditation.
Most of us need to slow down.
I don’t know any innovator types who have the opposite problem of not doing enough, it’s usually us doing too much. But Jesus changed the whole world at about three miles per hour, the pace a human being could walk.
Jesu regularly went to be alone with God. He rested, he had fun, went to parties, and took vacations. I think the prayerful scheduling of our time, putting margin in our calendars for encounter, and maintaining sabbath rest at least one day a week, all help us sync our soul with God’s soul.
3. Feeding the Soul Through Communication with God
The one thing we can never do too much of is prayer and meditation.
One of those great two-word Bible verses affirms this: “pray unceasingly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Again, looking at the rhythm of God’s soul revealed in Christ, Jesus prayed a lot!
Intentionally developing practices of prayer and meditation are crucial to the health of the soul. These are means by which we communicate with God. It is helpful to understand this is a two-way street. We want to talk to God, but we also want to listen. Both really require a deep stillness of the soul.
We turn off our minds long enough so that our souls can speak and listen. We should find some part of our day where we can hit the pause button on our busy lives.
4. Knowing How to Clean the Soul
One of the marvelously profound clichés we throw around in recovery programs, is “we are only as sick as our secrets.”
Secrets in the soul keep us sick. They are like poison, that slowly kills us over time. The Scriptures are quite clear about the power of confession, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
This is part of the magic that I believe happens in an Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery meeting. The Biblical principle of confession is taking place. People are being brutally honest with themselves and with each other. I love that I have a place I can go to and just be real, talk about my struggles, and get them out of my head.
Most pioneers that crash and burn don’t have that kind of place. We accumulate those “little” sins in our souls. We convince ourselves they are no big deal, or even worst, that we are above the rules.
5. Finding a Soul Friend
The Celtic tradition was an early form of missional innovation. It combined mission and monasticism in a way similar to many Fresh Expressions of Church today, little islands of Jesus dotting local communities where people actually do life.
One of the many gifts of Celtic Christianity is the concept of the anam cara or the “soul friend.” Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. So In the early Celtic church, there was a consistent theme of soul-love and a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam cara.
The origin of a soul friend was grounded in the idea of confession. This was a confidant to whom you confessed and revealed the hidden intimacies of your life. The anam cara was a safe person with whom you could share your soul.
We need a soul janitor, at least one person we meet with regularly who we can tell everything. We need a best friend. Someone outside the people that we serve, where we can cleanse the secrets of our soul. John Wesley kind of figured this out with societies, classes, and bands. Safe groups where people could get real and talk about “how goes it with your soul?” The healthiest innovators I know meet weekly with a person or group who help them clean up the mess in their souls.
The health of the soul is a journey, not a destination. We never arrive. As Christians, we take this journey through a series of mentoring fellowships we call “discipleship.” A one-on-one relationship of mutual blessing, and an exchange of soul. I often ask the people I coach if they have a soul janitor. I also ask them who is discipling you? And then who are you discipling? God’s grace flows powerfully in and out of the soul through these relationships.
6. Maintaining Soul Community
One of my mentors once told me, “lone wolves become wolves.”
How is it that people called to be with and love on people, can shift to preying upon them? We have seen lots of Christian leaders fall lately. But a soul that is rooted in community grows in healthy soil.
It easy for entrepreneurial types to be around people all the time, and yet internally isolate. The chameleon-like ability to fit into various networks and micro-communities, can lead to the splitting of the soul if we are not careful. It is also easy to be so busy planting, organizing, and leading community, that we never stop to participate in one for ourselves.
For me, the closest approximation I have found to the church that Jesus designed is recovery fellowships. That is my soul community. I’ve never met a group of people who understand prevenient grace, metanoia (change of mind and life direction), confession, faith, redemption, amends, and unconditional love like they do, even though they might not use those words.
Find a nurturing community of love and forgiveness.
The spiritual journey is not one that can be made in isolation. The human soul needs authentic community, no leader is above that need. We need others who are on the same path, who can teach, guide, and encourage us along the way. Maybe this means finding the right church or group of people who you can grow comfortable enough with to express your soul. Regularly worshiping, fellowshipping, and studying with this community can bring health to the soul. Maybe an initial commitment could be to simply find a worshiping community and attend once a week (I know we would love for you to join us at the Living Room Church!)
7. Enlightening the Soul through the Study of Scripture
The soul, left to its own insatiable appetite for more, can be a dark place.
Almost all spiritual paths have sacred writings that we interpret as inspired guidance from God. Many of those writings contain the spiritual progress or regressions of soul travelers for thousands of years. We can draw strength and direction from those texts. I believe one of the primary vehicles God uses to engage our souls, is the Bible.
The word is a “light unto the path” of the soul (Psalm 119:105), it is “a mirror” that shows us our soul as it really is (James 1:23), it revives the soul (Psalm 19:7), and introduces us to the one who is the “living word” God made flesh, light incarnate (John 1:1). Just like most living organisms, a soul cannot live without light.
We can sometimes get so consumed studying the Bible to share with others, we stop engaging it for ourselves. We cast the light into the souls of others, while ignoring the darkness of our own. We hold up the mirror for others to behold, without looking at ourselves. This proclivity is death-dealing to the soul.
Studying the Bible is one of the most soul-nourishing activities that we can regularly engage. It is one means of communicating with God, and God communicating with us. At the Living Room Church, we will read through the entire Bible together in 2021, all are welcome to join us!
8. Knowing Our Need through Fasting
Another countercultural concept, denying yourself what our world celebrates as necessities can be a soul nourishing practice. While fasting is probably a least favorite activity of many people, it causes the soul to come alive in new ways.
The world tells us to consume as much as we like, but developing the soul requires a process of self-denial. It doesn’t always have to be food, we can give up other things we truly enjoy for set periods of time. Perhaps taking one day a week to drink only water, not use social media, abstain from television, a no screen day, etc. The soul is awakened to our deep need for God when we fast.
9. Giving It Away to Keep It
One of the most powerful images for the soul is that of a stream. A stream must have a healthy inflow and a healthy outflow. If a stream is all outflow, it dries up, if it’s all inflow, it becomes stagnant. The grace of God that flows into our being flows out of our doing.
We are called to help other people. No spiritual path is complete if we are not somehow blessing our neighbors. The journey of the soul towards health is all about this inflow and outflow. We must give it away to keep it. Grace flows in and then flows out through relationships.
We also emphasize helping people in need: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, providing drink for the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, visiting the inmate, and standing against oppressive empires in non-violent ways to lift the downtrodden. Make sure you are finding ways to do those things; it will be a blessing your soul!
The world indoctrinates us to accumulate wealth. Most spiritual paths counterculturally encourage us to give it away for the betterment of our neighbors who stand in need. One of the greatest blessing to my soul is to give generously to others. Perhaps consider finding a church or organization that is positively impacting the community in real ways and make a commitment to give regularly.
Again, if you’re looking for the kind of soul community I describe here, I invite you to join us at Living Room Church. There we are seeking to create the kind of community that embodies each of these nine things.
Stay tuned for my next reflection on cultivating a healthy mind!