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I haven’t thought about these two terms as “entities” in a long time. Are they same or different? There are unique Hebrew and Greek words for them and I am aware the Bible uses them both in a variety of ways. As I read a variety of contemplative books, I see a score of variations. But, right now, I want to know what I believe or experience. Do I need to “know?”

Webster’s doesn’t help much, defining spirit as “an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organism,” or “the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person” while soul comes up as “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.” Both of these definitions like the words “animating” and “immaterial.” Of course, I already knew that.

When I look up diagrams, several pictures bubble to the top: concentric circles with spirit in the middle, Venn diagrams with overlapping circles, individual circles with arrows between them, and stacked circles within a body. Take your pick.

 

I can remember sitting under some pastors along the way who made this all sound conclusive, but it felt unattainable, as though holiness was a magic ring on a merry go round that I had to reach for, every time I went around. As a young believer, the message was “accept Jesus and boom! you’re good.” Later, “ask for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and you’re completely covered.” But then, along came “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” [Philippians 2:12-13] or “consecrate yourself to God,” [Romans 12:1], or, “you have been chosen through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and to be obedient to Jesus Christ,” [I Peter 1:2]. Obedience, discipline, commitment, long-suffering. And all because I was wondering about the soul and spirit.

Here’s the end result of all this cacophony according to me . . . today.

Soul and Spirit dwell together and they inform each other. They can be small or large, luminous or dusky. They can operate autonomously or as one. They can sing. They can work with the Holy Spirit when they are open. They are not gender specific all the time. My soul can be a curmudgeon. My spirit never is. My soul can be goofy. My spirit waits. They both exult at the Presence of God. They both worship. They both need rest under the wings of God. [Are those really wings? Of course not, but my soul finds comfort there and my spirit is succored there.]

For this reason, I know, the ways of God are a mystery. And my soul dwells there in Spirit.

milky way soul and spirit

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While practicing Lectio Divina over the weekend, I found myself reading
Numbers 21:4-5:

“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” ” [NIV]

impatienceAnd I immediately knew that “impatient” was the operative word for me. Impatience does not happen in the twinkling of an eye. It’s a process and literally, has steps along the way and thought patterns that culminate into full blown impatience. Here are just a few of the steps I discovered about myself.

  • I make assumptions about the destination and how long it will take to get there. This can be anything from walking my three-year-old grandson to the car to waiting for my lunch to be delivered at a restaurant. But it can also have a spiritual element: practicing silence (not 20 minutest yet??) or noting my unanswered prayers. 
  • I make assumptions of what I will or will not encounter. Why would I imagine that a “quiet time” would really be quiet: I live where cars, garbage trucks, pets, and a toddler manifest at will. 
  • I have often misunderstood the plan. How many times did I think I would be picked up at a certain time and discover it’s the wrong day? And how many times have I thought God wanted me to experience one moment when it was something altogether different? 
  • I don’t always recognize the early stages of impatience in my heart: it starts as a grumbling, like a gnawing hunger. At this point, there are no words, just a churning or frothiness within. 
  • Eventually, my grumbling becomes words, either out loud or in my head. I can rarely assuage the onslaught of impatience once words are formed. If anything, I’m digging in. Words make impatience stronger. 
  • My worst cases of impatience result in total disdain for “what is” and consequently, I miss what other thing could be born from the moment.
  • My personal inconvenience drives everything. It’s not long before hyperbole rules the day: How dare . . . ; I will NEVER . . . ; I hate . . . ; This ALWAYS . . .! And so on. The litany has its own rhythms and like the Baby Shark song, will not relent. 
  • As I review my episodes of impatience, whether with God or people, I can attest that I am no better than the Israelites. I complain, I lament, I give evidence of why I am justified in these feelings, and soon, I am ready to turn back. Whatever was awful before seems better than the way things are now. I think to myself, “if I can just avoid this situation, I will feel better. Life will be easier.” I’ll have that “old time religion.” 

gratefulRepercussions can develop from impatience that are more wretched than the original. Must I carry on until the “venomous snakes” (Numbers 21:6) show up before I repent? Or, can I breathe into the onslaught of impatient feelings and counter them with gratitude? 

That is the remedy, by the way. Just a simple expression of gratitude and acceptance. If I am surrendered to God, and believe God’s love for me, then really, is it too much to ask of myself to acknowledge the circumstances and walk them out? I want to say “yes, thanks,” and then see what happens. 

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This morning, while contemplating the phrase, “my times are in your hands,” from Psalm 31:15a, I considered how I would respond. Am I willing to give my time to God? Am I willing to surrender my time? So much of me is a planner: gotta be productive. Got so much to do. Busy, busy, busy. For years, this has been my unspoken mantra, drumming away in the background.

On St. Patrick’s Day, while still in Zambia, I slipped on wet concrete, my feet going up behind me and I landed full frontal on top of my wrist. Subsequent journeys to Lusaka to get it set and cast has nearly immobilized me. Wasn’t I already going slow enough on Zambia time? Apparently not. At first, I simply assumed there was a reason I needed to extend my stay by two weeks. But my return to the States has continued to see me moving at a different speed. The dang thing hurts. It’s uncomfortable to rest the hand/arm in any position. I can’t lift or push or grab with my left hand. I have to ask for help, even pouring oatmeal in a bowl or cutting a bagel in half. I have to stand around as others set the table or clean up after a meal.

But here’s the real message for me. It takes time to heal and it’s not always easy, comfortable, or painless. I am on a journey of spiritual formation: becoming more Christ-like and revealing my “true self.” Any believer is ultimately on this critical journey, but the path is different for each one. So, while I kvetch about my wrist, I see I am also bellyaching about my journey inward. Shouldn’t I be farther along by now? Shouldn’t I this or that? Wouldn’t I be/feel/know more? Is my wrist falling out of alignment? Is that why it hurts?

The wrist is on schedule. I just don’t like the speed of the progress. I don’t like the adjustments or the discomfort. It simply takes time. My body is fearfully and wonderfully made. My wrist will heal.

My soul and spirit are no less resilient and beloved. My false self will fall away, bit by bit, and I will know the healing grace of God more and more. My times are in God’s hands.

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Since I retired in December, I’ve been traveling quite a bit. I felt a rare freedom to go and do as I wanted. I have been to Zambia, to California and the Pacific Coast Highway, Denver, Estonia, and even back home to Indianapolis for a 50th high school reunion. Gods timeEach place has a story and now a memory. But it’s time to take a breath. A real breath. It’s time to examine “here.”

In some ways, I sound a bit like my 91 year old mother, just months before she died, she wondered aloud, “What should I do for the rest of my life?” She still felt she had something to give and something to do. But for her, it was a dis-ease with her present.

I want to change that pattern. Before I venture into too many tomorrows, I want a better assessment of today.

I don’t want my next day to come out of a place of dissatisfaction, as though this moment is wanting. I desire this day to be full of the awareness of God and a confidence in the Holy Spirit within to enrich my inner being.

This week, I have been chewing on Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation : Following the Movements of the Spirit. As he says, it is time to convert chronological time into “kairos” or God’s time, where “past, present, and future merge in the present moment. . . The spiritual life, therefore, is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.”

Jesus was able to “be” in any setting with every person because He could “see” beyond the surface of what he/she presented to the world. Just as the doctor can hear the beating heart through a stethoscope, Jesus could hear and see the fluttering soul.

Where is just another Here.

Well, that sounds a little bit like my old favorite show, Kung Fu, and me speaking like an Eastern mystic. That makes me laugh, Grasshopper.

But seriously, some pieces are falling into place and I am experiencing a type of contentment that I have not known before. From here, I will find my way.

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Oh God!

Lent, Day 7

The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand. [Psalm 37:23-24] 

Geisen, author of Brave Faith, the devotional I’m loosely following during Lent, references three scriptures for today’s reflections about moving toward God when we walk toward those brave moments, that choosing/doing moment something outside of our comfort zone.

Baby steps, I call them. Sometimes it’s as small as speaking to someone you would normally not speak to, for whatever reason. But on this day, you do. You make eye contact. You connect.

It takes a certain amount of awareness, first of our surroundings (with new eyes and ears) and then with a felt perception of God within. Present. This is the way, God whispers, look there. Listen. Go there.

In Zambia, I confess, it’s easier than at home. Everything is different, culturally. Everyone here at the village and at the School of Hope, they all say hello and how are you? In fact, it’s impolite to start any conversation without first asking about the other. But my first baby step here was learning this greeting in Nyanga, one of the primary languages spoken in Zambia (along with Bemba). People smile a little broader and I’m sure they’re giggling at my accent, but it’s OK. I don’t mind it at all.

But the most embarrassing for me is not understanding what people are saying to me. They are speaking in English, but it’s British English with a strong local accent on top. I have to keep asking for them to repeat what they have said or even spell it. One young girl said her name was “Gris.” I couldn’t imagine it. I tried it a few times and she looked at me all silly. Then I had her spell it: GRACE. Oh God! I thought, help me to hear.

Is this how I hear God? Some sort of mangled understanding? Am I interpreting? Or do I just hear what I want to hear? It may be one of the reasons why I can stay in my comfort zone so easily.

Oh God! Please repeat. I’ll get better at this. I will.

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Lent, Day 5.

Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Yesterday, Sunday, I had the blessing of giving the message at the Village of Hope Church. I used this Lenten study on Brave Faith (based on Mary Geisen’s devotional) as its root. Today’s excerpt from Geisen’s book uses one of the same illustrations I used of Peter having to step out of the boat before being able to walk on water. But even more important, that his eyes needed to remain on Jesus.

tightrope walkerI shared this story along with one of my own. Back in the day, when I was in acting school, we had two semesters of Circus classes. These were some of my favorites. Among the skills we learned was juggling and unicycle and of course, tightrope walking, which I loved. This too requires focus–that is focus on the end point. All balance comes from this focus.

Brave faith requires the same. We must look ahead and step toward that unknown. We must trust the Christ to bear with us the burdens, to guide our way, to keep us from falling.

 

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Lent, Day 3

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11 [NIV]

PresenceThe author of Brave Faith speaks from a place of introvertedness and “showing up.” As an off -the-chart extrovert, I am taking a different tack. For me, this devotion speaks more to Presence. Being There.

I have been working on prayer within the silence, connecting to my internal/eternal relationship with God . . . within. Bravery then can also be stopping the “external noise” long enough to hear, feel, and be in the moment.

So much of my time is spent thinking about what I did earlier today, yesterday, and a week ago OR pondering what I will wear tomorrow, what time I should get up, or what my plan is for the day. I have been losing the now; losing an opportunity to experience Presence. After all, God=I AM. Present tense, not I was or I will.

There is a type of courage that is required in the moment, letting go of what I did or did not do; letting go of what I plan to do or say. It’s the old phrase come to life: I am a Human BEing, not a Human Doing.

Our church is currently going through a terrible time as our beloved pastor has stepped down due to discovered infidelity and possibly more. It’s heart churning for everyone. But even worse are the attacks and the “I told you so’s” and who knows what else on social media. Personally, I know very few facts, but many are quick to surmise what was and when and who. Taking the Presence to this situation, I choose instead, to place him and his family and our church, into the moment. I cannot change what was and I don’t really know what tomorrow will bring, but there is this time now and invite my God into them, into us. I choose to feel unconditionally. And God will sort it out.

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