During the academic year, I offer some leadership to a weekly gathering that we affectionately call “Soul Work.” It is a motley crew. A variety of folks---professors, staff people, retirees and others---show up once a week to spend an hour sharing, listening, laughing and, sometimes, crying together. There are some very committed Christians in the group. There are Jews and some who are quite fond of Buddhist’s perspectives and practices. There are some who clearly are agnostic---they are not quite sure what they believe. And there is at least one avowed atheist.
In a real sense, we represent the potpourri of American culture. And lest I forget, we have one lovely young Muslim woman from abroad who graces our group each week. It is a wonderful experiment in spiritual community. It is an opportunity to hear people seriously think about life, meaning and purpose. It requires openness to enable community to work. It necessitates honesty on the part of all. True community makes plenty of room for diversity. But there is no room for hostility, hatred and violence. I am awed by the awesomeness of the group.
Each semester we use a book as a starting point for our time together. It is not really a book discussion group. The book is more of a starter than a focus. Once the conversation begins, we may never refer to the book again during the entire hour. Our own lives and experiences replace the content of the book. Recently we used the classic book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh entitled, Gift From the Sea. Originally published in the 1950s, the book has an uncanny relevance to our own times.
Every time I dip into the book, I come away with a gem. For example, we recently were working with the chapter in the book that focuses on the human need for some time alone---for solitude. Sometimes I think I especially get this because I am by nature an introvert. But I doubt that is the sole reason. Probably the real reason is because I am human. All humans need some alone-time to recharge and re-focus.
As I was reading the chapter, I hit upon a significant sentence for me personally. Lindbergh writes, “Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.” It is so easy for me to say, “Amen.” I think I have a sense of my “inner core.” And if I am to be authentic to myself and with others, I have to be aware of and relating from this inner core. Otherwise, I am playing games with myself and with others.
Apart from the inner core, I am living superficially or, perhaps even, a lie. Sadly, this is probably how many of us are living out our lives in this world. More of us would do well with more solitude. That would help us be together better.
Another conviction occurs to me. The “inner core” that Lindbergh talks about I happily would also call “soul.” Soul is that deep, inner mystery of myself---the essence of who I really am. And soul comes out in my actions. Again, if I spend no time in solitude, I am likely to have no clue about my soul---that deep, authentic “me.” In my case, I feel fortunate that I have some sense of “me.” I have a sense that I know a bit about my soul.
That leads to a second important question. Again Lindbergh articulates it for me. She recognizes one of the key problems of contemporary living, namely, busyness. In fact, we can get so busy we forget the soul. We get so busy with life that we forget the Source of life. Lindbergh tells us, “The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities. In fact, the problem is how to feed the soul.” That is a penetrating question: how to feed the soul?
Let me offer a couple suggestions how we feed our souls. In a sneaky way I have already been talking about a major source of feeding. That would be to take some time in solitude. I am persuaded that times of solitude are times when the soul is fed. The soul is nurtured by those times when we are alone. We escape from the hustle of the world---from its incessant demands. Solitude allows the soul some space---some breathing room.
A second way I recommend feeding the soul is to expose it to some beauty. Beauty might come in a variety of forms. It might actually be art. For some folks it is music---soulful music. I realize art and music do not work as well as time spent in nature. I need to be outside---outside in the elements. That is soulful for me. Perhaps it is the farm boy in me. But I need “exposure time.”