**from summer 2016**
“Life is just a chance to grow a soul.” So said Rev. A. Powell Davies.
If our souls can grow, then they aren’t static things or conditions to be simply ignored, lost, or saved. What is the growing piece, then? What is the soul? Hell, what is life?
Davies’ quotation seems to ask more questions than it answers.
Life, in my view, is where we make meaning. No matter what we hold most dear, life is where we learn it. No matter our abilities, talents, skills, knowledge, physicality, or intellectual acumen, we can make meaning. We may not be able to convey it to others, but meaning is within us.
Our lives bring meaning to others just as meaning can livewithin us.
An example: One of the first memorial services I officiated was for a 15-month-old child who had been born with a smooth brain. Matthew did not have the ridges and bumps, the valleys, twists and turns that relate to “normal” intellectual development.
His parents struggled over what to do when he was an infant. There were expensive, experimental treatments that might extend his life. They agonized over decision after decision. But then one day, Matthew’s mom’s best friend said, “You could do all these things.” She paused. “Or you could just love him. You could just love him.”
And that’s what the family did. I have goosebumps remembering hearing the story, hearing the rightness of it. The meaning. The family-making power of this choice.
Matthew only lived 15 months. And his parents and older sister—three when he died—loved him and included him in everything they did. His parents said, “Matthew was meant to be a baby. He was meant to bring love wherever he went, and that’s what he did. He couldn’t feed himself, he couldn’t dress himself, but he could smile and he could laugh. He could love us and we could love him.”
The meaning of Matthew’s life, it seems, was to love. And who knows what Matthew’s sense of his life was, but he had some, it seems. If he could laugh and he could look into the eyes of his family members and smile… Who knows?
I’ll let you take that in.
What’s a soul, then?
William Ellery Channing, the 19th-century Unitarian preacher and thinker, is known for his concept of “self-culture.” He believed that the development of what he called “character” was the height of human accomplishment, and achievable by any person.
Character has something in common with soul, but I think soul is deeper, more essential to us than character. Character has a moral quality. And while soul may as well, I think it’s more a question of depth, of identity.
When we say a person is soulful or their music or art or acting is soulful, we don’t mean that they are morally perfect. We mean that they have a depth that brings us into closer to a universal sense of humanity. That they are giving their whole selves to whatever they do, however they are. That is what soul is…the gift of life and its meaning.
So what’s it mean to grow a soul?
To grow a soul is to develop a sense of meaning, of fullness…the word “abandon” will not let me go. A sense of giving everything one has to give. To become ever more and more filled with authenticity, integrity, compassion, and wisdom.
How do we grow our souls?
I think of my nephew’s mother, who is an avid practitioner of jiu-jitsu. She has found a spiritual practice in the discipline of the art, skill, and athleticism of jiu-jitsu that has changed her life. She has become more fierce in her clarity of mind and sense of calling. Interestingly, my friends and colleagues who do Crossfit report similar results.
Physical activity, especially activity we love in environments we love—for me it’s swimming and for my brother it’s mountain biking—can bring us deeper into understanding of ourselves.
Gardening is a classic way to come into more profound connection with oneself, Earth, and Life as a whole. And by Life I mean the whole process of life, growth, repose, death, decomposition, and rebirth. It is a classic way to bring us into alignment with whatever we hold most sacred.
So can more “traditional” spiritual practices. Meditation comes in limitless forms. Candle gazing. Scrying into water. Walking. Listening to affirmations. Making music. Writing. “There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” the poet Mevlana Rumi is said to have written.
On June 20th, at 5:30 PDT/8:30 EDT I will have a free call, Sowing Seeds of Spirit, to discuss spiritual practice, particularly in the metaphorical and material practices of gardening. Register for the free forty-five minute call here.
And then, starting the 22nd, I’ll have a four-week series on various spiritual practices, called Growing Our Souls . The practice will help those who have been frustrated by spiritual practice. It’s also designed for those who feel a sense of dis-ease in their lives and are willing to try spiritual practice as a remedy. Furthermore, the class is great for those who have a practice but would like to learn something new, something to change their practice or add to it.
The last time I gave this class, students reported that it helped them engage practices they had never before considered and that have helped them “grow their souls” ever since. One student has taken another class and says she intends to take every new class of mine she can. Register here for the class, and get ready for a wonderful time!