This week's reflections have tried to form something of a roadmap for how we can return to God in a an authentic and thorough way, for the remainder of our lives. When all of these pieces (our minds, hearts/spirits/wills, bodies, and relationships) are headed in the same Godward direction together, our souls will also find their home in life as God intended it to be lived. We have immense trouble today acknowledging that we have souls, and even when we do–having any clue what they are or what to do about them. Since this week's framework has largely come from Dallas Willard's book, Renovation of the Heart, and his description of the soul is about the only one that has ever made much sense to me, allow me to quote a couple of paragraphs:
What is running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, or your thoughts, or your intentions, or even your feelings, but your soul. The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. It is the life-center of the human being. It regulates whatever is occurring in each of those dimensions and how they interact with each other and respond to surrounding events in the overall governance of your life. The soul is "deep" in the sense of being basic or foundational and also in the sense that it lies almost totally beyond conscious awareness.
In the person with the "well-kept heart," the soul will be itself properly ordered under God and in harmony with reality. The outcome will be... "a person who is prepared for and capable of responding to the situations of life in ways that are good and right." For such a person, the human spirit will be in correct relationship to God. With his assisting grace, it will bring the soul into subjection to God and the mind (thoughts, feelings) into subjection to the soul. The social context and the body will then come into subjection to thoughts and feelings that are in agreement with truth and with God's intent and purposes for us. Any given event in our life would then proceed as it should, because our soul is functioning properly under God.(5)
In another place, Dallas compares the soul to something like the operating system on your computer. We never notice the large majority of what happens there, though it is the regulator of everything we experience. Our operating systems and our souls normally only get much attention when something goes badly wrong with them.
So how do we direct them in our desire to return to God? We have to clear out space in our lives for God's grace to work at the soul level, deeper than our feelings. The two primary practices the church has hung on to through the ages for doing this are silence and solitude. We all need these, regardless of whether we are introverts or extroverts, because otherwise we will drown out anything that may be happening at that level–more often than not, with good things.
If we want our entire lives to return to God this Lent and beyond, we cannot do without time in quiet, apart from other people, for the simple purpose of being with God. Wesley urged his early Methodists to retire from the world at least each morning and evening to be alone with God, saying that if we spend an entire day in constant interactions with others, our souls will surely be damaged.
So now that we've come to the brink of Holy Week, how is your soul? Is it well-kept and prepared to follow Jesus through the next week? Or is it so accustomed to being ignored that you might avoid giving it any space to be with God, even during this most sacred of times?
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer (5) See Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]