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Posts Tagged ‘soul’

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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prayer-1Come close and listen,
    all you who honor God;
    I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him
    with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart,
    my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.   
    He heard the sound of my prayer.
Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
    he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66: 16-20]

In the Restore Church Lent Devotional for 2017, this passage from the Psalms is highlighted. And the phrase about the sound of prayer jumped out at me. What is that really?

Is it the sound of my voice? Of course, there are times of praying out loud. I think it helps keep me centered in the moment when I pray out loud. But God does not necessarily need to hear my voice to know my prayer. There is the prayer that comes with music and singing. I don’t sing as much in my prayer time as I used to do, but much is said about God hearing music as a form of worship, adoration, and of course, prayer.

Instead, it’s a deeper sound. In verse 18, it is written that evil in my heart (or sin) would have gotten in the way of the sound of my prayer. God would not listen, by choice.

For this reason, I find myself in confession from the beginning; I ask God to empty my heart of the resentments I have carried through the day or day before, to empty my heart of judgments and jealousy and envy, to empty my heart of disappointment. I want God to hear my heart in prayer, my mind in prayer, my soul.

I understand why some Eastern traditions use a bell whose vibrations linger, I can imagine the clearing of my inner self would be like one of these bells, the sound of my prayer on its tail.

Hear my prayer O Lord. 

 

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God does not participate in Valentine’s Day. God is not particularly interested in the hearts and flowers of young lovers wooing one another. God is not about Cupid and arrows and online dating. God is about our innermost being, the center of ourselves, our gut, our center, our soul and spirit. Our identity. That heart.

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.heart of the matter
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. [Psalm 51:6-12, NRSV]

Anything else, and we are lying to ourselves and to God. We could be living a myth of faith if our “hearts” are not in it. If all we have is a semblance of faithfulness, a Sunday morning piety, a “Praise the Lord” verbiage, we are missing the depth and breadth and length of God within.

The heart of a matter is the crux of it, the most vital part that implies the rest is totally dependent upon it. Is your faith totally dependent on the presence of God in the core of you?

It is from this center that decisions are made and hunches are formed and hope is nurtured and sin is birthed. But it is also here that faith is planted, where God manifests as the Holy Spirit, where change begins.

Oh yes, “create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

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living god[Jesus said,] “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” [Mark 12:27, NIV]

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. . . . My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. [Isaiah 26:4, 9a NIV]

Your name, Lord, endures forever, your renown, Lord, through all generations. [Psalm 135:13, NIV]

Forever. Eternal. God of the living, through every generation that was and is and is to come. For those who doubt, I say, the odds are in God’s favor, that forever means forever and eternity has no end. We, finite beings, cannot really fathom the infinite. It is a concept that has no comparison, no metaphor.

Graphic by Ace Montana

Graphic by Ace Montana

By the same token, we have mistakenly assumed we know what it means to “live.” Is it really just our seventy or possibly eighty years that will measure our living? Even if it’s one hundred years that we walk or ride the earth, is that all there is to living? Breathing by lungs, blood pumped by a heart, brain synapses firing: Is that all there is? Is God merely the God of this corporeal body? Or, is God the God of a living soul?

And for this reason, the soul and spirit yearn for God, the One whose Presence sustains and protects and cherishes. The soul lives by God. Amen.

P.S. I have had to add another Lectionary site to my devotions as my initial choice did not have daily readings. For those who are interested: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=B

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Artwork by Jo Smith

My mother used to tell me that my name, Irmgarde, meant “guardian of the hearth,” which didn’t do much for me as I didn’t imagine myself a homemaker. In later years, I discovered, my name actually means “guardian of a small enclosure.” This is what God does for my heart too.

II Timothy 1:12b
. . . because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

Truthfully, I always think of that small enclosure around my set of close friends and family. I imagine a corral and I am standing at the gate, protecting them from harm, from predators. I am grateful that the Holy Spirit is standing just so at the entrance to my deepest places. This is my warrior King.

It’s part of our agreement. As I turn over my stuff and give God access to my closed places within, I am promised Presence.

We have a triune God (at minimum) to help us get a handle on the work that each entity might play: God, omnipotent and sovereign, manages the big picture (the life maps) while Jesus, the Redeemer, became human to empathize and experience life within the context of time and space and to create a Way to unite us with God by endowing us with the Holy Spirit who indwells any who will accept this arrangement, this gift, this promise, this mystery.

We are understood in all those arenas. . . . and probably more.

God embraces the surrendered soul. Jesus modeled surrender.

My challenge? To accept the paradox that surrender is security; surrender is strength; surrender is safety.

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Quilt by Dee Mallon

Paul speaks a specific blessing on the Thessalonians: a strong heart and so much love that it overflows on everyone. Now there’s a blessing I can embrace. But heart strength must accompany love, because loving others is not easy–it’s not just Valentine roses and chocolates.

I Thessalonians 3:12-13a
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts . . .
[NIV 2011]

Oh, this thing called love. It’s one of the most powerful aspects of God and yet, it’s the least understood or exercised. It’s become a word of hippies and lovers, cupids and cartoons instead of a force that can rock a people, even a nation. It’s the ultimate expression of paradox.

Love poured out on us from God is capable of healing and renewing hope for others. If I could operate in that anointed love, I could live a I Corinthians 13 life.

Love never fails.

If love is the action, then the heart is the container where love is rooted within and married to the Holy Spirit. The heart must be strong to endure rejection, hatred, anger, abandonment, prejudice, lies, and ignorance. The heart must be flexible, sometimes a fortress and sometimes a cloud. The heart can have doors but they cannot be locked. The heart must be a sponge and a drum. Sometimes, the heart must be a mirror and at other times, a vacuum. The heart, blessed by God, is a micro-universe, always expanding to make room for more love.

Keep me mindful this day of my heart and the hearts of others, that love would flow, overflow, and become a river, undaunted, ever changing, and reaching into the depths of those dry places.

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There were many deep and wonderful discoveries in the book of Colossians and I thank Paul for the words and prayers that came from it. And yet, I forgot he was imprisoned as he wrote this epistle. Who else have I forgotten in their suffering? Who else have I taken for granted?

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

I found this poem by Laijon Liu and give it as a remembrance to those long suffering, to those whose hearts or bodies have been broken, to those I know and to those I don’t know. With this poem, I say to you that I will remember you in prayer. I will remember your distress, your chains, your cries.

Will you meet me in my death?
O Deliverer of my hope,
Will you free me in my peril?
O Healer of my soul,
Will you cure all my disease?

When I cry, shedding tears
Do you taste my bitterness?
When I strive, struggling to survive
Do you stand by and offer your hand?
When I give up, with shattered dreams
Do you pick up all the pieces?

O Listener of all my prayers,
In silence and thunders I wait for your answer.
O Comforter of my broken heart,
In lonely night I search for your solace.
O Helper of my weakened strength,
In unbearable burden I seek your relief.

O Maker of heavens and earth,
May I call you my God?
Even if I never know your name,
Even if I’ve done some shameful things,
Even if I betrayed you and ran away once.

But will you forgive me for all my wrongs?
Will you help me when I reach toward you with my tiny hands?
Will you grant me peace even though we battled all our lives?

People say you set the rules,
But I know you truly love.
When others judge my covers,
You attend my heart and mind.

When my road leads into dark storms,
You will light up my eyesight.
When I fall on hard ground,
You will lift me up to rise.

When I face hardship and scorn,
We will together share our portion.
When I suffer in a hopeless sickbed,
We will together battle in each breath.

When I’m lost alone and lingering,
You will be with me, and guide me home.
One day I’ll die and depart,
But I truly believe
You will lift me up.

O God, our Savior, listen to our prayer.
Fill our hunger, heal our sickness,
Comfort our souls.
If you wish not to answer,
Then please wait for us,
Because we are about to shut our eyes.

–Laijon Liu

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