Please enjoy our guest blogger, Sue Clough, as she shares with us a sermon she gave at First Metropolitan United Church in Victoria on Sunday August 28th. The context for her talk that day was to a congregation, but if you aren’t a person of faith or suffer from church or religion disillusionment, don’t let that stop you from reading this. The subject is very well presented, and relevant for our times and for us personally. Enjoy 🙂
In the mid-20th Century, Carl Jung said, ‘The most serious spiritual illness of our times is the loss of soul’.
Many of us lived in the 50’s where church, family and society worked as a cohesive unit, but it was not an idyllic time. Racism and segregation were common, women’s roles specifically defined and gender diversity very closeted…to name but a few social ills. If Jung said this when we thought things were more unified, I wonder what he would say about the ills of our more complex society today.
I see the values of our present society eroding our awareness of soul and of our conscious connection to an essential part of us. This is our spiritual crisis.
I resonate with this issue but I need to be clear that I am here not because I live a soulful life easily. Nor do I have a list of the Top 10 Ways to face this crisis. What I offer is the hunger of my heart that keeps inviting me to attend to, as the Tales of Narnia say, the ‘further up and further in’ of life. They say that you teach or preach what you need to learn!
The context for my message today comes from the ‘North Star’ of my life… beliefs that ground me in my daily living. There are 2 aspects of this star…
First, being a person is a human-spiritual experience. We are where the human and the spiritual meet. We are embodied spirits and to be human IS to be spiritual. These are one and the same. Growing into greater freedom and wholeness emotionally, psychologically or spiritually is the same reality. Only the language to describe the experience may be different. Our growth is always wholistic.
The author of John’s Gospel has Jesus saying, ‘I have come that you may have life, life to the full.’ I chose this meaningful reading as a reminder of the opportunity offered to us. We are meant for life. It is often difficult for many to really believe this. By facing what blocks us to our own fullness, healing can happen and we are able to taste life more grandly and with increased compassion. Being a person is a journey of growing into a great full life. As St. Iraneus says, ‘The glory of God is us, fully alive’. This sacred work of coming fully alive is, at once, a deeply human and a deeply spiritual journey.
The other aspect of ‘Star’ is a quote I came across many years ago that informs my life and reflects how I experience the universe in its people, experiences, and in all of creation: as the embodiment of the divine.
‘The Source of Being exists AS all things and is in them only in that sense.
All things do not live in IT and IT does not live in them.
It lives AS them.
Eternal Being expresses its Being as you!’
This is how I know God, Great Mystery and why living from soul is important to me.
But first, to the question, ‘How do we know soul?’
Talking about ‘soul’ is like describing our experience of a cloud from the inside of it…we know it’s there but it’s hard to capture. This short poem talks of the ineffability of soul and yet its definite presence.
I am not I.
I am this one
Walking beside me whom I do not see,
Whom at times I manage to visit,
And whom at other times I forget;
The one who remains silent when I talk,
(The one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
The one who takes a walk where I am not,)
The one who will remain standing when I die.
When we attend, we all know our own soul. It is ‘the one walking beside me whom I do not see/whom, at times, I manage to visit.’ Soul is our inner core that makes us who we are. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, called this our True Self. He meant the self that is clear, beyond the masks we wear, is the spark of the presence of the divine. Our True Self is the one who is blessing, and who is of God. Of course, we are not without darkness but, really, we are Light, our Christ-Self. Zen Buddhism talks about ‘the face we had before we were born’.
Living soulfully is living divinely…is living just who we are in truth. When we attend, we sense that we are in this flow.
Even if we cannot define soul, we can know soul from what it does…
Soul Takes us Beyond Ourselves
We know our soul as we engage in creative self-expression like the arts. How often have we heard people say, ‘I completely lost track of time when I was writing…I was in another world.’ Soul expands when singing Brahm’s Requiem or in being awed by the ancient forests, hiking for 7-days, or working with the homeless. In ways that are less measurable, soul space is hearing the cries of the heart of a friend, being in love, or in making efforts to resolve a painful conflict.
Soul opens to the profound mystery of life when we bow in reverence for the universe and for the innate sacredness of each person. Not only are we on holy ground but we ARE holy ground.
Soul is Unfolding
‘Soul work’ is the ongoing process of becoming aware of what blocks our real connection to an inner loving presence, our True Self. Along the way in life, each of us has been bruised and battered. Early pain, old beliefs, or depression allowed us to believe that we are the messages that have been engrained in us (I’m not deserving…I’m not good enough…I’m a disappointment…). That woundedness prevents us from recognizing that we are unique, gifted and meant for full life. Uncovering the blocks within, claiming our uniqueness and choosing to say ‘yes’ to life can reveal to us our True Self.
Soul is unfolding, a work in progress. I’m 70 as are many of my friends and all of us are still in the process of becoming aware, growing and offering our gifts to the world.
In effect, it’s really all about consciousness and choice. How can we wake up to our soul’s reality? And how can we choose to live from that awareness?
Many are called
but most are frozen
in corporate and collective cold.
These are the stalled
who choose not to be chosen
but rather to be bought and sold. (L. Pieper)
Waking up to and nourishing soul can happen by following one’s interests, or inspiration.
My soul was significantly awakened visiting here from Toronto in the 90’s. During these visits I had a strong sense that the West was ‘the home of my soul’ but I didn’t know what that meant. Moving to Victoria 9 years ago (today!) and living here continues to show me in marvelous and surprising ways why I am here. Coming West was a commitment to my soul. It was a large, radical decision but sometimes we need that kind of a ‘wake up’ call.
My core group of people with whom I celebrate the seasons of the year and of life, being so close to nature here and photographing in the wilderness all enliven my soul. Solitude nourishes me in a significant way. All these ways help me stay awake and connected to that essential part of myself.
Soul is a Guide thru the Darkness
We all know the place of inner darkness. Serious illness, the death of a loved one, psychological trauma, or relational suffering can drop us into a foreign land where nothing of what was familiar can comfort us, where we can’t depend on anyone. None of our resources seem to help us. One of the ways I temporarily deal with troubling issues is by reading Mystery Novels one after another, escaping into another world. After giving myself some small relief, I soon return to look at the distressing situation I had been avoiding.
When we can’t figure it out, when we feel we’re at the end, this is Soul time. Something old is dying and something new is being born within us. We have been thrown into the cycle of life-death-rebirth, into the Christian mystery of death / resurrection and are lost in the middle of the transformation. This darkness is Holy Saturday, the day of waiting.
Globally, we are currently in a time of darkness, chaos and transition where old ways are no longer meaningful. Traditional beliefs have been shaken, including beliefs about God. Change is all around, even in our own community here at First Met. A new way has not yet come forth and many are feeling rootless and fearful.
But, something in us knows the way through. It is soul that shows us how to walk in the dark and to lead us to something new. This often entails surrender as we listen to the soul’s wisdom…wisdom that TS Eliot knows something about:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love for the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Issues that Foster Soul-lessness
I’d like to highlight five of the many issues that make it challenging to live from soul. These issues each imply the possibility of making another choice.
‘Weapons of Mass Distractions’. Despite its benefits, there is a shadow side to technology: the sheer variety and quantity of information that is accessible and its speed foster a loss of concentration, inability to focus. Increased distractions affect the consciousness of all of humanity, and our sense of what is relevant.
All of us know the distractibility of devices at a dinner (Sorry, I just need to check this…) or in any gathering of friends, sidelining a direct encounter with another while texting.
Addictions: These can be substance addictions or inner compulsions (competition, jealousy, drivenness). The unlimited ways of being stuck remove us from our deeper rhythm. We are addicted to the finite even tho’ it stunts our soul and prevents us from fully savouring our life. The dominant values of our society, produce, make $$, be someone are themselves addictive.
Narcissism: This dis-ease has recently come out into the open. The ‘selfie’ culture is exalted and celebrated. And do we really need to talk of the prime public example of narcissism that is everywhere in the media these months?
Disconnection from Nature: We are out of synch with nature’s rhythms and often our home décor reflects our longing for a reconnection. (ie., myriad plants, indoor water features). The great gifts of living here are our closeness to the ocean with its beauty and fierceness, and old growth trees at our doorstep.
Exploitation of Sexuality: It’s impossible to address this very large topic here but it is a significant one for today. Relationship, gender and identity are all being exploited for the marketplace. We only need to look at media ads to see the soul-lessness in them.
Facing the Crisis
These external and internal issues, as well as the lack of communal supports, contribute to the loss of soul in our world.
Facing this 21st Century crisis together means finding ways to create a lifestyle that nourishes soul. It is, of course, not easy… mystery novels or video games are seductive! Fuller life can be ours by awakening and committing to choose other ways that foster true life.
Living soulfully is not a self-centred way to live as some people think. To live from our profoundest Truth whether as a contemplative hermit or as a social activist brings life to others and further consciousness and soul to our world.
Finally, I leave you with 3 questions for your reflection:
- What awakens your soul and nourishes you, allowing you to live from your essence? Maybe it is a practice, a teacher, certain authors, nature, music….
- What pulls you away from and separates you from living from soul?
- What can we create, together, as supports for living soulfully?
Ubuntu: I cannot be what I am meant to be, until you are what you are meant to be.
In her previous life in Toronto, Sue Clough was a high school and adult educator for 35 years whose area included teaching Math as well as being a Chaplain and a spiritual guide. Her decision to uproot from the East and move to Victoria was the best decision in her early retirement. For the past 9 years, Sue has enjoyed being so close to the beauty in nature, loves photography, poetry, and being with friends and family. Sue continues to offer workshops and retreats on several topics relating to the human-spiritual journey. If you would like to contact her directly, her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org