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How’s It SUPPOSED to Be with Our Souls?

You’ve probably heard the old question, “How is it with your soul?”

In most religious circles I’ve been in, we’re reminded from time to time that we should be asking each other this, but here’s what we do instead. Person A asks Person B, with a cock of the head, “How are you doing?” because Person A isn’t comfortable prying into Person B’s spiritual life. In response, Person B talks about her aches and pains and woes. Person A empathizes, commiserates, and promises to pray for Person B. And this is all fine, because we ought to care about each other and bear each other’s burdens.

But that’s not the same thing as asking each other about the state of our souls.

What we’re missing is the fact that we Christians are supposed to be caught up in the most exciting project ever, and we inquire about each other’s progress as a way of spurring each other on toward accomplishment of the seemingly-impossible goal that’s been set before us. That goal, in New Testament parlance, is to “go on toward perfection” (Hebrews 6:1 NRSV). But to put it in less grandiose terms, it is to become, as fully as possible, the people God created us to be.

In order to understand what sort of answer would be appropriate in response to the question, “How is it with your soul?” we should first ask ourselves, “How is it supposed to be with our souls?”

And here is just one answer. There are many, many others, but this one’s ambitious enough. Christ says, “[T]hose who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14 NRSV).

That’s a metaphor, of course, but all metaphors refer to something. What is this one referring to, do you suppose? I interpret it as promising a spiritual life that is not only deeply satisfying but immediately available — an inexhaustible source of refreshment within oneself. You don’t have to stand in line at a drinking fountain. It’s within you.

But it’s more than that. It’s not just a form of self-satisfaction. What we’re enjoying is the presence of Jesus Christ. He’s the Living Water. The goal is for us to be imbibing him — in sips, if that’s all we can manage, or in great gulps if we can — and finding a refreshment and satisfaction that are available nowhere else.

Let’s take this one text as an example. If we have a prayer partner or good friend in the faith, and it seems too artificial to ask them, “How is it with your soul?” we could instead have a conversation about the progress each of us is making toward experiencing that gushing spring of water within us.

Have we asked Christ to give us this water? If not, why not? If we have, what’s been the outcome? If there hasn’t been any obvious response to that prayer, let’s talk about it (or better yet, pray about it together) and see if we can figure out what’s hindering us. If there has been a positive response, let’s encourage each other by talking about it, and let’s see what we can do to increase our ability to drink even more freely.

See what I’m saying? The whole point is for us to help each other get deeper into a relationship with the Living God.

Lately, I’ve been particularly impressed by the kinds of metaphors Christ used to describe the Christian life. They were some of the most enjoyable things in life: eating, drinking, partying (he used the party metaphor so often, his enemies ended up using it against him), basking in the sunlight, playing like children in the marketplace — indeed, even becoming like little children again. As enjoyable as each of these things are in human life, they’re metaphors of even greater spiritual possibilities. They’re glimpses of where we’re supposed to be going, both as individuals and as churches. They’re examples of how it’s supposed to be with our souls.

How is it with your soul?

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2 thoughts on “How’s It SUPPOSED to Be with Our Souls?

  1. How interesting for this to be your latest blog, Ron–there are several colleagues of mine who are in the same boat as I am about the lack of spiritual depth and support for growth to which we feel we have access here in div school. We’ve been talking a lot about building some kind of community among ourselves and it sounds every time more and more like the Wesleyan covenant discipleship groups (although I’m the only UM) and the space where one is given permission to ask “how is it with your soul?” Looking at it from this angle makes me even more sure that this is a direction we should be going…any advice on how to structure such a thing beyond “hey, we should get together and hold each other accountable for our faith lives”?

    • Dear friend,

      You honor me with your request. I do have some suggestions that I hope will be useful to you and your colleagues.

      (1) Structure the group around the question, “So what?” (I can hear Interpreter’s voice saying it!) You don’t even have to make more work for yourselves. Use the material you’re already studying in your classes, if possible. Even though those subjects seem like dry bones, the Spirit may yet breathe life into them. After all the deconstruction you’re being taught to do, put the texts back together again and ask yourselves, “What is God saying to us here and now through these texts?”

      Example A: You’ve been learning about what the Yahwist writer, as opposed to the Deuteronomist, contributed to the Pentateuch. Take some representative passages and ask yourselves, “Now that we understand the historical and literary background of these texts, what do they mean in their present form? What is God saying to us here and now through them? More to the point, how are we being invited closer into relationship with God through these texts?”

      Example B: You’ve been studying the literary and theological differences between the synoptics and the johannine gospel. Ask yourselves, “What glimpses of God can we get from each of the communities that authored these texts? The johannine community saw things that the synoptic people didn’t, and vice versa. What is God trying to tell us through these very different lenses?” As much as possible, make it personal. “In what ways do these texts hold up a mirror to each of us? What are they showing us about our own need for spiritual growth?”

      (2) If you’ve got extra time and want to read something more than what you’re getting in your coursework, you might want to focus on books of the Bible that encourage spiritual growth: some of Paul’s letters (especially his counsel to up-and-coming leaders like Timothy and Titus), or the Psalms (using them as invitations to set aside book-study and open your souls to God). The Letter to the Hebrews might be a nice way of pulling together your Old and New Testament scholarship in a way that goes beyond scholarship — because it calls you to venture boldly beyond the veil. My own preference is always to dig deeper and deeper into the teachings of Jesus. Regardless of the texts you choose, my advice would be (again) to go for those “So what?” kinds of responses, especially asking how the text invites you into deeper relationship with the God who is beyond book learning.

      (3) Or you might want to read secondary works by people like C. S. Lewis or Augustine. I know you yourself could do a lot with Pilgrim’s Progress or Dante’s Purgatorio. Resist the temptation to be bookish, however. Ask the “So what?” questions. Allow the texts both to convict you and to spur you onward toward perfection.

      (4) Consider this metaphor. Think of all that you’re learning in your classes as the spiritual equivalent of Baker’s Chocolate. In its present form, it’s not going to satisfy your cravings. Invite each other over for “baking sessions,” and see what wonderful confections you can make out of it.

      I hope this helps. For what it’s worth, I’ll be joining y’all in prayer from Pilgrim Land.

      Ron

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