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Posted on Sep 2, 2018

How is it with your soul?

How is it with your soul?


Photo Credit: David Paul Ohmer Flickr via Compfight cc

September 2, Proper 17:

Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10 & Song of Solomon 2:8-13
James 1:17-27Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

How is it with your soul?

Our siblings in Christ who follow the ways of the Methodists, say that John Wesley asked this question often in small group settings.

I’ve had Methodists today ask me this.

How is it with your soul?

It’s an important question, much heftier than “how are you doing?”, or “how’s it going?”

But it’s not a question that gets asked a lot in our world.

It is a question I think we ignore at our own peril…

How is it with your soul?

I know variations of this question get asked in Daughters of the King meetings, and at some of our other small group ministry meetings—Geography of Grace, and Faith Explorations—sometimes in vestry meetings…not that specific question, but ones like it…questions designed to help you listen to your own soul…to discover your own soul…and all of it’s longings…

Maybe we need to start asking it more often around here…try it out…when you gather with two or three others over coffee…at the start of meetings…or at the dinner table with close family and friends…take some time and ask…How is it with your soul?

What would change, I wonder, if we asked that with more regularity…and then—and here’s the key—because it’s not just asking the question…what if we asked it and then listened…really listened…to the response…?

It’s a two part exercise…Asking and then listening.

“Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak,” advises, James. Boy. How often do we get that turned around?

Quick to speak and slow to listen, that’s our culture.

There is real power and grace in listening to someone else’s story…to someone else revealing or struggling with…how it is with their soul.

Recently a friend of mine, a priest in another diocese, had an encounter in a grocery store. He had stopped by on his way home, so he was wearing his collar and a man came up to him and said “How can you priests come out in public after all that stuff in the news?” Referring to the most recent horrible allegations of clergy misconduct and coverups. And my friend, very courageously, very wisely, and very calmly replied: “Do you want to talk about it or do you just want to be angry at me? Because I’ll be ok with either.”

The man ranted at him for what was probably 30 seconds but felt much, much longer.

My friend did nothing but listen, and when the man was done said simply, “I didn’t do any of those things in the report. But I think it was horrible, and I’m upset about it, and I’m sorry that the church and its clergy has let you down. I’m sorry.”

The man just stood there. And then my friend asked: “Are you ok?” The man slowly said, “Yeah. Thanks for letting me vent. I don’t even know you, Father.” To which my friend replied, “That’s ok. We’ll get through this somehow. I’m glad you said something. Let’s pray for all the victims, ok?” The man said, “I will.” And then he said, “God bless you, Father,” and left. Both of these men were shaken by the encounter, but somehow more whole after it, because a soul had been revealed and listened to.

How is it with your soul?

Be quick to listen and slow to speak. It’s powerful combination.

Of course, my friend was able to do that kind of listening, and being with a person in a tough situation, not because they have a collar on, and have been endowed with some kind of magical power. My friend was able to do it, because he practices…because he trains, because he has committed time and effort listening to his own soul…and to the soul stories of others. It’s not really all that mysterious…it’s just practice. It’s the way of love…those practices that I introduced way back in July…We can all do it…

And asking How is it with your soul? is a way of supporting and strengthening  those practices….so try it…ask it of yourself (how is it with my soul?) and listening for the response…Practice asking it of others, and listening for the response…

Is it harder to do that with ourselves or with others?

I think in many ways it might be harder to do that for ourselves…I think very often don’t want to know what’s going on with our own souls…because we’re afraid of what we might find there…

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:” (yeah that’s true), and there’s that list…that list of things we all know is in us…folly, pride, envy, deceit, and even the big ticket items—the really bad stuff—even if they don’t describe any of our past or present actions, we all know that we’re just a few steps of really terrible luck away from them….”All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” We know it’s all in there…so better not look…Just keep a lid on it…What if I ask, “how’s my soul? and I don’t like what I hear?

I know this was one of my biggest fears when I first became aware of the voice of my soul, and started—tentatively—to listen to it…I remember thinking, “What if I go looking for my soul, and I either can’t find it, or I don’t like what I find? “What if I discover true self and it turns out I’m a—word I can’t say from the pulpit.”

Here’s some truth that I have found…When you start to listen to your soulstory, and the soulstory of others…you will come across all of that dark stuff… pride, envy, folly—a lot of folly…a good bit of deceit…but you will also discover, grace, and hope, and joy,  abundant generosity and incredible strength…It’s all there—and God is there as well, working with you to transform it all. I disagree with James, I don’t think it’s fruitful to try to “rid yourself of sordidness and rank growth of wickedness.” To simply get rid of all that bad stuff…It’s important to not act on those feelings of anger, envy, avarice, be deceitful etc. but instead of trying to get rid of all the dark stuff, I’ve found it much better to ask God to help me transform it…so that it doesn’t deform me and my relationships.

Here’s another bit of truth that I’ve discovered…as practices go…asking about what your soul—and the souls of others—is up to…what it really longs for…and really listening to and absorbing the response…is not the easiest thing. But it is the most rewarding. It takes time and effort and commitment.

But we’ve got time, and we have the capacity to do it, and God’s grace to guide us…so, how is it with your soul?