I remember hearing a wise, wonderful woman share with a group of worn-out clergy about the soul. She compared it to a skittish animal in a wild woodland forest. When visitors come tromping through the wood, with loud bangs and bright flashlights, the soul scurries for safety, hiding until the unexpected foreigners depart. The soul is skittish, shy and profoundly vulnerable. It takes care and gentleness to even find the soul, long before you even begin to work with it. It may sound funny to say that we need to "find" our soul, but in my experience, I find that statement to be quite accurate.
My soul was well hidden behind all sorts of masked attempts to cover up my self-worth issues--also known as coping mechanisms, defense mechanisms, or whatever other psychological term you need to use.
My soul was excellent at survival though; consider this quote from Parker Palmer.
How did I learn about this soul-work? Well, sadly, I wish I could say that seminary taught me all about soul-work. Ironically, seminary struggles still to help students balance both spiritual formation and academic formation. Though it might seem to most that seminary would focus on the former, that is not the case in most cases.Parker J. Palmer,“Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed. My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.”
Particularly for folks like me--my therapist said to me one day, after several appointments of getting to know me, "Heather, you have a high cognitive ability, and a very low emotional functioning ability." In normal words, "Heather, you cope with the world with your brain alot, but have very low emotional coping skills."
So, seminary worked well for me. Really well.
But in the realm of spiritual formation, somehow or another, I was missing something. I read all the books. I even did all the suggested spiritual practices, like the books said. Something was missing. Though I hesitate to identify spiritual formation as simply "emotional" (that's a whole other blog post), I might explain that "emotional" here is better expressed as "vulnerable". And the current reigning expert on vulnerability, though I know there are more, is Brene Brown.
My becoming began, when I was invited into a circle of people, who also were trying to figure out who they were, and we all were invited to find our souls. And this work, as a word of caution, was at some cost. Cost to my ego, my perfectionism, my agenda, my plan. Finding my soul was both the best thing that happened to me, and the worst.
Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. ~ Brené Brown
Finding my soul takes space. Space to reflect, to pause, to consider, to rest. To look and listen for God, away from the busy-ness and mind-numbing pace of life. To create space to hear God from a place of rest and openness. I had to choose to get off the hamster wheel of "doing" to experience "being".
Finding my soul took grace. The ever-present, mysterious grace of God in Christ that was with me, ever single step of the way, in the darkness and in the light. The grace that was with me on the hamster wheels of my life, and the grace that was with me when I chose to create space.
Finding my soul takes community. Together with other imperfect human beings, I found that at the core we all were searching for very similar things. Being, belonging, worth, identity, and authenticity. And we desperately need each other in this process. Jesus didn't command us to just love God, but to also love one another. This latter part is one we often overlook or choose to forget. Perhaps because it's messy and hard. Well, people are imperfect. I choose to daily get over that and love them anyway.
Becoming is hard, but here's the best part. You don't really have to work at it; it's more about letting go.