Be Good To Your Soul
I have a fascination with quotable quotes, the kind that put into a few words the deep things in life we all experience. I have more than a fascination. I actually look for them and write them down in a book. Sometimes, I even make them up myself. Here are a few of them:
If you give to your garden, it will give back to you. (Thomas Merton)
Sometimes, I get lonesome for a storm where everything changes. (Written on a banner in a library in Omaha, Nebraska.)
Be lovers of your soul. (St. Clare of Assisi)
At the present moment, I would like to reflect on the words of Clare, written to her own Sisters.1 St. Clare speaks of her soul almost like one would a companion. When I recall Merton’s saying on giving to one’s garden, I can not help but think about giving to one’s own soul. The quote would then read: If you give to your soul, it will give back to you.
How does one give to one’s own soul? One gives to the soul by giving it time and attention every single day. This means that we build into our busy schedule a time for quiet to be with our own soul, even if it is only ten or fifteen minutes. Sometimes, this fifteen minutes occurs while driving to owork or an errand. If one is fortunate enough to be able to do this at home, one may choose to set up a sacred space which one associates with prayer. This space may be as simple as a chair that faces a window looking out. Some people like to light a candle. A recent e-mailer asked, “Do I read a spiritual book and then think about what I have read?” St. Teresa of Avila did this. It seems like reading from a book helps us to become focused. Reading like this is much like the monastic “Lectio Divina,” during which a person reads from Scripture and then reflects on it. Spiritual books are usually commentaries on the Sacred Scripture of life itself.
During the reflecting, God (or the soul) often speaks to us, giving us what we need for the journey. At the close of our prayer time, it is good to note the fruit of the prayer, that is, to find one word or sentence that summarizes the prayer event and to put this word in a place where we will see it during the day.
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Not Able To Pray
On some days, we may feel that we are not able to pray, or that we are not able to make contact with our souls. This is certainly distressing. St. John of the Cross encourages us to simply cooperate with what is going on inside of us. After all, it is the Spirit who prays within. At moments like these, the soul itself teaches us to pray. It is good to ask ourselves: Am I tired? Am I sad? Do I wish I could be doing something else? Am I worried? What about? These are the times when we become aware that we pray with our whole selves, not just with our head. Somewhere in all his many volumes, St. Thomas Aquinas exhorts the one who prays to first take care of what is bothering the soul before one actually begins the formal time of prayer. It is my own thinking that addressing these concerns is itself a prayer, since prayer is really just a “being with.” In all of this, the aim is to arrive at the point where we are peaceful and have the sense that we are alive as human beings, with the zest that goes with that feeling.
Gradually, we may find that we can trust our souls, even if it is only a little whisper. St. John of the Cross speaks of these stirrings as “the most delicate anointings of the Holy Spirit.”2 The soul is a faithful companion. God is trustworthy and will not let us down. This is what is meant by covenant. In passing, we should mention that the soul can also speak to us in tears. Sometimes, the soul cries with us.
If we can trust our souls, then we are called to live from our souls. This is probably the most difficult task. How does one live from the soul? We do what the soul tells us. We come back to the soul throughout the day. We touch base with it. Gradually, this coming back becomes natural. Gradually, we find that the soul is our home, our center point of peace and our resting place.
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My Innermost Beauty
Sr. Briege O’Hare exhorts us to nourish our souls.3 One way to nourish the soul is by doing what we really enjoy doing. Often, our days are filled with tasks that keep us from doing all the things we would like to do. Although we may not be able to simply drop these tasks for something else, it seems a good thing to keep in mind what we really find to be enjoyable. It could just happen that an opportunity will present itself. If these desires come from the soul, then we want to honor them. No desire is ever really lost.
Do difficult times serve the soul? It would seem so. We become stronger, more ourselves, more able to take risks and more equipped to do what is our call and personal mission. We also become more able to adjust to the ups and downs of life. Incidentally, there was once a comic strip in Peanuts in which Lucy said that she did not want any downs. She wanted all ups.Many mystics and poets have written about the beauty of the soul, including our own St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila). Perhaps, it is good to remember this on the hard days. Every soul is beautiful! Plato said it well. “Show me my innermost beauty,” he wrote, “and may my outward and inward person be one.”
1The substance of this article was inspired by an article which appeared in the UISG Bulletin, Number 113, 2000, Rome, Italy. Sr. Briege O’Hare, OSC, “The Third Letter of Clare to Agnes of Prague, Living From The Soul - That Which Is Greater Than Heaven Itself, p.25ff.
2St. John of the Cross, Living Flame, Vol.3, 3.40, p.164, Tr. Allison Peers. London: 1953.
3Op. Cit. ,Sr. Briege O’Hare, UISG, p.34.