“Living from the Soul”
These months of “sheltering in place” because of the pandemic have stripped away a lot of extra coming and going. Although I am already retired from the official work world, this different use of time has prompted me to question what over the years has tended to become an armload of accumulated lesser habits and activities. That in itself is a gift: to be pressed into focusing on more “essential” matters – such as the soul.
I used to think of the word soul as just a fancy substitute for “person.” But exploring the thoughts of St. Augustine and others for Growing Generous Souls has prompted me to see the soul as one’s “true self, the essence of who we are, seeking to grow more and more into the image of God.”1
Clearly it is God Who makes the soul, not us. (See 2 Corinthians 4:7) God is continuously creating, sustaining, and shaping us toward the image God has uniquely in mind for each of us.2 That is God’s part. At the same time, our part is the opportunity to “live from the soul.” I was struck by this phrase from Thomas Moore. It refers to life when your “actions are more in tune with the root of your experience and less influenced by passing social fads,” says Moore. “Life has a primal quality,” becoming “less interested in the surface glitter of culture.”3
The roles we fill can be important in a variety of relationships at any stage of life, but they cannot imbue us with timeless meaning.
We do not have a soul, as if it were a division of who we are (mind versus body versus soul). We are souls, as whole persons, and we naturally want to extend God’s care to others. As one author says, the soul “has no size, weight, color or shape, but has an infinite dignity and value.” It gives us the capacity for caring. “When I treat another person as an infinite soul, I have woven the social fabric.”4
God’s love for us does not stop there. There is nothing outside the circle of God’s care. So when we feel secure in God’s deep attention to us – “in other words, when we know that God loves us – then we are able to go forth without fear into a dangerous world” to help others.5
So how can we nourish ourselves as souls, to receive God’s care more substantially and to give it more fully to others? We can:
- Set aside a quiet time each day to go deep within, loosening our hold of the social identity through which we have learned to see ourselves.
- Engage in any of the spiritual disciplines, including searching the Scriptures, praying, meditating, or contemplating.6
- Turn to the arts and to the great world religions for wisdom and inspiration.
- Refuse to be distracted by negative feelings and focus instead on gratitude, and on unity with everything else.
- Demonstrate compassion and resonance with someone else.
- Speak from the heart instead of from a critical mind.
- Stop analyzing our past; realize that now is the only moment that exists.
“Soul is found in the quality of what I am doing,” says philosopher Robert Fulghum.
If my activities have a sense of truth and integrity, if they are deep in meaning, then they are rich in soul, and so am I. Thus, for me, ‘nourishing the soul’ means making sure I attend to those things that give my life richness and depth of meaning.7
Living from the soul means remembering God’s intention for us and the essence of our relationship with God. It means noticing the everyday presence of God in each new moment. It helps us reach out to others to extend God’s care, even as we awaken our awareness of unity with all. It means doing whatever opens us to appreciating the layered levels of reality in which we live.
Contributing Source: Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield, editors, Handbook for the Soul.
1 – Betsy Schwarzentraub, Growing Generous Souls, p. 79.
2 – For the image of God, see ibid., pp. 96-100.
3 – Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals, p. 294.
4 – David Brooks, author of The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, interviewed by Oprah on Super Soul Sunday Season 13, 2019.
5 – Liddy Barlow, “Living the Word” for June 25, 2017, Christian Century June 7, 2019, p. 20.
6 – Betsy Schwarzentraub, op cit., pp. 59-74.
7 – Robert Fulghum, “Pay Attention,” Handbook for the Soul, p. 10.