“A number of men who made their living as porters were hired one day to carry a huge load of supplies for a group on safari. Their loads were unusually heavy and the trek through the jungle was on a rough path. Several days into the journey, they stopped, unshouldered their loads and refused to go on. No pleas, bribes or threats worked in terms of persuading them to go on. Asked why they couldn’t continue, they answered, ‘We can’t go on: we have to wait for our soul to catch up with us.’” (From the book “The Instinct” by Tom Stella).
I’ve had this experience after running all week, and going home drained and empty. Maybe I’ve given when I didn’t have much to give. There were times when I tried to fill someone else’s cup when mine was just about empty. Something tells me that this may be a common thing among us humans. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, has a lot to say about this. So, I will quote him throughout this article, with a little of my philosophy thrown in.
I used to keep a journal, and I don’t know why I quit. I guess I got tired of entering a “travel log” kind of thing, saying what I did and when I did it, and not much else. What I didn’t do enough of was to record the feelings I had at certain times when my soul felt empty or when I felt drained of all spiritual energy. Or even when I felt really close to God, or during peak experiences.
As I read back over my journal, I found a quote by Danny Kaye: “Life is a great big canvas. Throw all the paint on it you can. I’ll throw it as long as I can and then some.” My journal didn’t have much “soul” in it. It was more of a chronology of events and when I did this or that, or where we went after church, etc.
What is “soulful living” anyway? I believe it is being aware and being present to what is happening at any given moment. It is more of the “I-Thou” relationship than the “I-It”. In other words, the people around you are not “its”. They are souls. I can be around someone and not “be there”. Fairly often Joann will say to me, “Where are you?” And I will confess that my mind and spirit was somewhere else.
Soulful living can come out of a close relationship with Christ, as we think about the way he was aware and sensitive to his surroundings. He was aware of little children, the blind, crippled and people with different and difficult situations. His compassion was evident throughout the gospels.
Rolheiser says, “Most of us, I suspect, live most of our days not very aware of how rich our lives are, forever leaving our souls behind. For example, many is the woman who gives 10 to 15 years of her life to bearing and raising children, spending 24 hours a day on constant alert, sacrificing all leisure time and putting a career and personal creativity on hold. And yet, too often, that same woman later on, looks back on those years and wishes she could relive them. But now, in a more soulful way, more deliberately aware of how wonderful and privileged it is to do precisely those things she did with so much drama and tiredness. Years later, looking back, she sees how rich and precious her experience was and how, because of the burden and stress, how little her soul was present then to what she was actually undergoing.”
Rolheiser continues, “For most of us, I fear, our souls will only catch up with us when, finally, we are in a retirement home, with diminished health, energy and opportunity to work.” Why do we have to lose something or someone before we really see the value of that situation or person? I started off with four sisters and one brother. Now, I have one sister left who is in a nursing home in Oxford, Mississippi. Did I tell each one that I loved them? If I didn’t, I should have.
Early on in his priesthood, when Pope Francis was in charge of a school, he would, at a certain point each day, have the public address system cut in and interrupt the work that was going on in each classroom with this announcement: “Be grateful. Set your horizon. Take stock of your day.” This would be a good thing for each of us to lay down our burdens for a minute or so each day so our souls can catch up with us.
I love the words of that hymn “Be Still My Soul” by Katharina von Schlegel, especially the first verse:
“Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain,
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul, thy best, thy heavenly Friend,
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”