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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…

Brokenness, Come, Ye Disconsolate, Comfort, Depression, Despair, Disconsolate, discouragement, Emotions, Hope, Sorrow

A Lenten Invitation . . . Come, Ye Disconsolate


“Come, Ye Disconsolate” is one of my favorite hymns. You might ask why. In every person’s life, there are times of sorrow that fall very deeply into the soul. There is a sense in which deep sorrow communes with us like no other emotion. Being disconsolate can be a beautiful experience.

It is a beautiful word — disconsolate — a word full of depth and full of meaning. Yet, it is not a word we often use. It sounds a bit like an ”old” word to me, perhaps more widely used in decades past. The definition? According to Merriam-Webster, the word disconsolate means “cheerless.” I don’t find enough soul angst in that definition, but the word has many soulful synonyms.


Synonyms for disconsolate can be as heart-rending as the word itself: downcast, inconsolable, dispirited, desolate, crushed, despairing, destroyed, despondent, hopeless, heartbroken ~
comfortless


So many words, so full of sorrow. Still, I love the word disconsolate. It has been my companion on many a journey and, although I did not welcome it as an emotion, I learned to own it, which is surely the most important way to have full awareness of your spirit. The truth is, when one is disconsolate, it is an opportunity to imagine being wrapped tenderly with a soft blanket of hope. Wrapped completely, face-under-the-covers wrapped!

How can such a word remind me of a soft blanket tenderly wrapped around me? How can the soft cover be called a blanket of hope? I will offer one reason that is a personal story about my friend and colleague in ministry, Donna. When I was desperately ill with end stage kidney disease, Donna came to visit me in the hospital often. Many of those visits I can’t remember, but she came one day holding a gift in her hands. The gift was a fluffy, white crocheted blanket that her entire congregation had prayed over as they petitioned God to restore me to health.

Every time, from that day to this, that I covered myself with that blanket, I would think of Donna and her church members and their act of love and concern. I imagined them nearby and sensed their prayers becoming a part of my soul’s lament. They did not leave me comfortless.

Whenever I feel disconsolate, comfortless, it helps me to remember these words from the Gospel of John, one of the most beautifully poignant passages in all of scripture:

16 And I will pray to God who will send you
another Comforter who will abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth;
Sadly, the world cannot accept the Comforter,
because it does not truly see her or know her.
But you know her; for she dwells with you, and shall be in you.

18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
19 In a little while, the world will see me no more;
but you see me: because I live, you shall live also.

25 These things have I spoken unto you while I am still present with you.

26 But the Comforter — the Holy Spirit — God will send in my name,

and the Spirit will teach you all things,
and bring all things to your remembrance, all the things I have said to you.

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you:
I do not give you peace as the world gives,

Instead I give you peace as if it were from God.
And so, my beloved children, do not let your heart be troubled,
neither let your heart be afraid.
— Jesus, recorded in John 14: 16-19; 25-27, paraphrased


During the times I felt disconsolate through the years, I have always been able to rest under the comforting wings of the Spirit, the Comforter who is with me always. Yes, it is true that many times my heart was troubled and afraid. The words of Jesus did not always repair the state of my heart or diminish my fear. But the promise of Jesus — that I would not be left comfortless — soothed and strengthened my heart.

The words of this hymn held for me a depth of meaning that has spoken comfort and truth to my disconsolate spirit — every time — easing my suffering and leaving me with hope.

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish; 
come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel. 
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; 
earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. 

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying, 
hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure! 
Here speaks the Comforter, in mercy saying, 
“Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.”

Here see the bread of life; see waters flowing 
forth from the throne of God, pure from above. 
Come to the feast prepared; come, ever knowing 
earth has no sorrow but heaven can remove.
Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

I have experienced the “joy of the desolate” many times. It is a joy that fills my heart, in spite of how deeply desolate I feel. As for what this all means during this Lenten season. For me, it means that a Lenten experience can help me see the ”light of the straying,” and that I will experience the ”hope of the penitent” and once again hear the words of the Comforter “in mercy saying, ‘Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.’”

From this time forth and forevermore. Amen.

As you spend a few quiet moments during this Second Week of Lent, the following video of this moving hymn may give you peace and hope.

The Georgia Boy Choir singing “Come, Ye Disconsolate” arranged by Terre Johnson.
This performance was recorded on July 24, 2021,
during the regional concert tour at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia.

Covid-19, Disconsolate, discouragement, Faith, Holy Spirit, Hope, Isolation, Social distancing, Spirit, Spirit wind

Just Gray!

5A2EB8AE-EAB9-4CD6-9915-CBFC3BBE670F
“Grays” A watercolor painting by Kathy Manis Findley
https://kalliopeswatercolors.com/

Sometimes some things don’t work! Like today as I am trying to insert the image for this post. It’s a watercolor painting I did a couple of years ago titled “Grays.” I don’t remember what was gray about that day or why I felt surrounded by gray, but I know that something was troubling about the day.

Like today! No, it’s definitely not gray outdoors. No gray skies above while the sun is shining brightly. Yet, I feel the “gray” closing in on me today, and for the past few days. News of the world’s hurt certainly has something to do about it. I can’t bear to hear of the spike in Covid cases, the danger of the Delta variant, exhausted health care providers gasping for relief, maltreated children at the overcrowded migrant center in Fort Bliss, Texas. I can hardly bear to hear another report about my friend who is very ill or about another friend I spoke to this morning who lost two love ones this week.

It feels gray in me right now. I think the gray feeling has a lot to do with the chat I had with my nephrologist at Mayo Clinic this week. He was beyond concerned about our current pandemic situation for his transplant patients. Of course, I am one of those patients. He was adamant that we immunosuppressed patients must begin isolating again immediately.

So again, the outlook for me is bleak. Not only am I one of his patients who are on high doses of immunosuppressant medications, but also I am one of the people for whom vaccines are not very effective. So while the general vaccinated public is around 90% protected from the virus, we are 50% (or less) protected. My doctor ordered an antibody test and, sure enough, it revealed that I have zero antibodies, which means I am not protected from Covid and that I can infect others.

I think that means retreating again from public gatherings — from stores, from groups of friends, from medical offices, from church. The time I was so looking forward to — seeing my grandchildren — is now a more distant possibility. All of that looks pretty darn gray to me!

I know in the depths of my soul that there are no simple answers for the gray times, the times when I am disconsolate and despondent. I know that I cannot change every adverse circumstance of my life. I know, too, that we cannot always change our soul’s response to those difficult circumstances. Sometimes, the “gray” of despondency simply has its way in me, and I cannot pull myself up and out. Sometimes I feel as if I am in a desert wilderness, and although streams of water may be there, I do not find them.

In such times, I have found that my ability to hold on to my very self comes directly from the Spirit, who is my sure and certain comforter. And I have learned that, while Holy Scripture and contemplative space do not always mysteriously rescue me or magically change my circumstance, I receive the peace and strength I need to live.

Jesus said to them:
“I must leave you, but I will ask God,
and our Mother snd Father God will give you another Comforter.
This Comforter will stay with you forever. 
She is the Spirit, who reveals all that is true and real about God. . . .
So when I go, you will not be left all alone . . .
I leave my peace with you. I give my peace to you.
So do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not be afraid.”

John 14:1, 16-18, 27 (my translation)


My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26


May you find that Spirit wind is moving gently within your spirit, and may God be the strength of your heart forever. Amen