“There once was a town high in the Alps that straddled the banks of a beautiful stream. The stream was fed by springs that were old as the earth and deep as the sea. The water was clear like crystal. Children laughed and played beside it; swans and geese swam on it. You could see the rocks and the sand and the rainbow trout that swarmed at the bottom of the stream. High in the hills, far beyond anyone’s sight, lived an old man who served as Keeper of the Springs. He had been hired so long ago that now no one could remember a time when he wasn’t there.He would travel from one spring to another in the hills, removing branches or fallen leaves or debris that might pollute the water. But his work was unseen. One year the town council decided they had better things to do with their money. No one supervised the old man anyway. They had roads to repair and taxes to collect and services to offer, and giving money to an unseen stream-cleaner had become a luxury they could no longer afford. So the old man left his post. High in the mountains, the springs went untended; twigs and branches and worse muddied the liquid flow. Mud and silt compacted the creek bed; farm wastes turned parts of the stream into stagnant bogs. For a time no one in the village noticed. But after a while, the water was not the same. It began to look brackish. The swans flew away to live elsewhere. The water no longer had a crisp scent that drew children to play by it. Some people in the town began to grow ill. All noticed the loss of sparkling beauty that used to flow between the banks of the streams that fed the town. The life of the village depended on the stream, and the life of the stream depended on the keeper. The city council reconvened, the money was found, the old man was rehired. After yet another time, the springs were cleaned, the stream was pure, children played again on its banks, illness was replaced by health, the swans came home, and the village came back to life. The life of a village depended on the health of the stream. The stream is your soul. And you are the keeper.”
Soul Keeping by John Ortberg
The soul. What an elusive thing to try and define. Is it different from our spirits? How do we care for it at all? So, what exactly is the soul? It is the central part of us that influences our minds and our will. The Bible talks about the soul as the part of us that is eternal (“My soul longs for you oh God” Psalm 63). It’s like an operating system. Our souls seek integration between our wills, our minds, and our bodies.
If one hasn’t examined the soul in a while, it can be an intimidating and even scary thing to approach, but in order to experience true alignment with God’s purposes, we must become aware of and care diligently for our souls. Where do we even begin? In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us to rest. He says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Oh how lovely that sounds, but HOW do we actually do it? We’ve all got real responsibilities, bills to pay, families to care for, careers. I don’t believe that Jesus is asking us to drop everything to pursue soul health. I believe He was a living example of how to have a full calendar and still be healthy. But I also wonder if Jesus showed up at my house or your house and took a look at the calendar, what kind of de-cluttering might He do? It’s not a threat, it’s an invitation…to freedom! What kind of de-cluttering could happen in your life if you accepted Jesus’ invitation to come to him, all who are weary and burdened, and receive rest?
By being too hurried, or living a schedule that is too cluttered we lose
- the space where we experience God’s unfailing love and deep mercy
- perspective on what is important and what is not
- compassion for others who suffer
Here are two options to choose from that can help to slow down and take inventory of where are souls are at:
1. Set aside fifteen minutes at the beginning or end of each day to reflect on the previous twenty-four hours. In what two or three moments did you recognize your soul at work? For example, it might be an experience of beauty or connection to God; an experience of suffering; or a time when you felt an internal conflict (between your will, your mind, and/ or your body). Briefly note your responses on a pad of paper or in a journal. At the end of the week, review your daily responses. What stands out most to you about the times you recognize your soul at work?
2. Each day, set a timer or an alert (on your watch, smartphone, laptop, etc.) for two or three intervals throughout the day. At each interval, allow five minutes to turn your attention to your soul. Ask, What does my soul need right now? For example at 10: 00 a.m., 3: 00 p.m., 7: 00 p.m., or perhaps around meal times. How is it different from what my “self” thinks it needs right now? Note your responses with a brief line or two on a pad of paper or in a journal (or email them to yourself). At the end of the week, review your daily notes. What stands out most to you about what your soul routinely needs?
I challenge you to do one of those two things this next week, and see what a difference it make!