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Soul and Spirit: Holding Hope

Soul and Spirit, Art by Kathy Manis Findley.


Sometimes I counsel persons who feel hopeless. I tell them that I will hold their hope for them until they are ready to hold it for themselves. I have always liked that image of holding hope for another person. It respects the genuine difficulty of feeling hopeless, while leaving the door open for hope to return in another and better time. Just so you know, I am not feeling hopeless, but many times in every day brings a hopeless moment—my hands might shake when I try to thread a needle; my legs might get suddenly weak; I might be very dizzy while cooking dinner; I might fall face-first into the flower bed and fracture my wrist while trimming a shrub. In those times and others like them, I need someone to hold my hope until I can again hold hope for myself!

I have to tell you: I am a pretty strong person that doesn’t yet know how to live my life being unable to trim a bush in my front flower bed! But at the same time, physical deficiencies bring on feelings of hopelessness that take a toll on my soul and spirit. Deep down grief it causes, when you are gradually losing your ability to do something you loved to do in the past. I tell myself that maybe I should admit the losses I’m experiencing and ask a friend to hold my hope until I can hold it for myself. But of course, that would be falling of a pedestal marked “Super Woman.” How could I do that?

So on this day, since I have been suffering with Covid for six weeks, I turned my thoughts to the subject of emotional and spiritual healing. My thoughts raised the questions of what exactly is the difference between the soul and the spirit, and how in the world would I heal those places inside me?

Here’s my attempt at an answer. Most of us would agree that we consist of body, soul and spirit. In fact, the Bible affirms the existence of all three:

May your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus.
(I Thessalonians 5:23)

Our physical bodies are fairly evident to us, but our souls and spirits are so much less distinguishable. In the preceding scripture passage, the Greek word for soul is psuche (ψυχή), or as we might call it, “psyche.” This word “soul” implies our mind, our will and desires and our emotional responses to life’s situations. Our soul is reflected in our personality. Our soul is our life.

Spirit” is a completely different word. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma (πνεύμα). It refers to the part of us that connects with God and receives the breath of life from the Holy Spirit (Άγιο πνεύμα). Our spirit is our breath, the breath that animates and enlivens us from deep within. I like the way theologian David Galston explains it: 

“The soul is life, and the Greek word is psyche. The spirit is breath, and the Greek word is pneuma. Natural confusion exists between the [meaning of the] spirit and the soul . . . both words, in their roots, mean breath. But for the Greeks, there were two kinds of breath: the kind necessary for life, the psyche, and the kind necessary for [our very breath], the pneuma. In modern English, we might distinguish the two as life and energy.”

I often ask my clients, mentees and friends this question: How is your heart? They almost always understand how their heart is and why. But ask these questions — How is your soul? How is your spirit? — and the answers don’t come as easily. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that, for myself, it is that I am able to know my heart more easily. I am more in touch with it. When I am sorrowful, happy, excited, surprised and I place my hand over my heart, it is as if I have literally touched it, and my heart tells me what emotion is there.

As for my soul and my spirit, well, they are deeper in me. In the innermost places of me, my soul mourns and celebrates and holds all manner of emotions. In my innermost parts, my spirit lies quietly within me, always waiting for the brush of Spirit wind, waiting in stillness for the breath that animates and enlivens.

So what is the lesson here? What is the message from God we need to hear? Believe it or not, it’s not complicated. Isn’t it just like God to send us a thoroughly uncomplicated message that we immediately make complicated? God’s bottom line here is easy, simple, and uncomplicated: “Guard your heart, your soul, your spirit . . . all that is within you.”

From Joshua:
“Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.”

From Deuteronomy:
“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.”

From Proverbs:
“Above all, guard your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.”

From 1 Thessalonians:
“And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And that’s it! So I will leave you with just one path that you may choose to follow: the path that leads you deep within yourself to your sacred, quiet place and then implores you to listen for God’s whisper and wait for the breeze of the Spirit. Where? In a beautiful, peaceful place, under a starlit sky, in a quiet room filled with sounds of music. Whatever your experience of loss and lostness, loneliness and isolation, mourning and tears, may you find comfort. Whatever your experience of being unable to hold your own hope, may you find someone who will hold hope for you until you are healed enough to hold it for yourself. And may you hear the sounds of soul and spirit nearby, and perhaps find the brightest hope yet in the words of poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, here turned into beautiful music.

Until another day, hold on to hope,
Kathy

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory of a dream.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

“There Was a Time” by Elaine Hagenberg
Poem by William Wordsworth
https://www.elainehagenberg.com/there…

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