Do you ever really listen to LIFE? Do you ever pay attention to the encounters, events, and even the thoughts and feelings that arise within you throughout the day? I have discovered all of them together as a means of conversation with the Divine within me. Twice this week, I was engaged in a conversation around the soul and the apparent soul-less-ness of our current lives as a country. Today, I encountered a meditation by the renowned theologian, Matthew Fox, called “Recovering Soul, Another Contribution of Black Spirituality” and all of these have set me wondering….
I must admit hearing Soul immediately takes me back to my younger years of dancing to the music of the people’s-anointed Godfather of Soul, James Brown. I was also a big fan of The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. For us, soul was getting down to the very truth of who you were (are), singing and dancing, and living from that space. Little did I know that this was an understanding inherited from the ancestors.
It was later that I learned in the African worldview, soul, is the essence of a person expressing itself “in union with the “Universal Order” and therefore with all Being.” It is most recognized in the human being’s capacity to feel. Without the ability to feel, then, one might ask if the soul is even evident. Paradoxically, with all the brightest and most salient contributions of AI technology where will such technology lead without the ability to truly feel on both sides of the AI equation? To me, soul is the marriage of the human mind and heart as one.
At a weekly Centering Prayer gathering we discussed excerpts of an op-ed piece by David Brooks whose theme focused on the concept that every individual and even every nation has a soul or what he called a “moral essence.” This fact, alone though, does not make for soulful living. Having millions of dollars in a bank yet living poverty-stricken because one is unaware of its presence does not make one wealthy.
Could our divisions, anger, hatred, and vehemently polarized arguments be grounded in the general “lack” of soul that goes beyond “moral” essence? Could soul really be something more—like the very core of what it means to be human beyond our ever-changing definitions of right or wrong? After all, morals are always in flux, and this is especially true between cultures. There must be something else that calls forth the true ME and the true YOU. Can that not be the so-called “image of GOD” within us?
If the same image is within each one of us, then we truly are ONE at our core and we find no need to debate the sin of racism or any other sins— like how we treat the foreigners in our midst or how to agree on gun reform. These things become moot because what I do to you, I do to myself and what I don’t do for you, I fail to do for myself.
At the end of the day our group, as much as we hated to say it, all agreed that soul-less-ness is truly a “thing” in our country and shows up easily in the ways we are usually against instead of for an-other. Different cultures have other ways, of thinking about soul, like the one that is grounded in the African philosophy of Ubuntu. There are other indigenous ways in the Americas, Asia, and Australia as well. Matthew Fox suggests that it would be a good idea for some of these other approaches to become a part of mainstream thought and conversation about the soul. Maybe he is right.
Hmmm, I wonder when that will happen. How long will it take for us to become a soulful nation? Just something to think about.
Pondering with Hope & Love,
Exciting news about the summer ahead – Paul’s Place Summer Camp is returning to Redeemer! After a long hiatus, we will once again be hosting a week of Paul’s Place Summer Camp here at Redeemer. The theme for this year’s camp is “Makers on the Move.” Campers will explore different creative activities through cooking, arts and crafts, movement, music, reading and math, and workshops.
Redeemer has hosted a session of Paul’s Place Camp for decades. After a hiatus during Covid, we are excited to partner with them again. If you are newer to our community and haven’t experienced a camp session on campus (like me!), here’s a little context on the organization and their history.
Paul’s Place is a non-profit community organization located on Ward Street in Pigtown, a historic neighborhood west of downtown Baltimore. Started as a soup kitchen by two volunteers in 1982, Paul’s Place has grown to offer a nurses’ clinic, mail and fax services, laundry services, a clothing marketplace, a computer lab, walk in case management services, showers, and peer recovery services, in addition to their continuing hot lunch program. Their programs seek to strengthen individuals and families and foster hope, personal dignity, and growth in Southwest Baltimore, promoting stability on a variety of levels in their community. You can learn more at their website here.
For several weeks each summer, Paul’s Place offers a summer camp for elementary schoolers in southwest Baltimore designed to provide enriching activities for the children. The camp changes location around Baltimore each week, and Redeemer has hosted a week for many years. And we’d love you to be a part of it! We need youth counselors and adult volunteers to help make camp happen. Our session begins on Monday, July 17 and runs through Friday, July 21. There is a required orientation the morning of Saturday, July 15. Students who are rising 9th graders and older are encouraged to apply to be counselors; please contact me with any questions. Adults who love camp, have time and talents to share, can help prep lunch and pack snacks, or feel passionate about making learning fun and engaging should contact Cristina+.
If you’re not able to volunteer but you have in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. What do you remember about Paul’s Place Camp? What was special or important? What’s something that surprised you?
I have been listening to Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, SILENCE: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, and listening has taken me back to my true passion and first love—learning.
I know exactly what I would be doing if I had been born independently wealthy. I would be a perpetual student. I would study and learn new and different things just for the sake of knowing. I could imagine myself at a university or two or three in various libraries, reading, writing papers, engaging the authors of essays and books, and just having a literal good, ole time! When I was 10 or 11 years old, I started reading encyclopedias for fun. My friends thought I was weird. I guess I was. It was only as an adult that I discovered other adults who had done something similar as children.
But alas, I was not born independently wealthy and “worked for a living” as some would say. Yet, as I reflect back there is no work that I have taken on that has ever stopped me from learning. I will always be a perpetual student. I have come to realize that my entire life has been a lesson of learning through the hills and valleys of my lived experiences.
I perceive LIFE, for the most part, as being all about lessons. At least that is what keeps me in peace and on the road to openness and receptivity to what IS. For example, I believe that learning to know who we truly are versus who we so often THINK we are (or have been conditioned to believe that we are) is the biggest lesson most of us will ever face.
Consider, too, that if we are each born with the image of GOD inside us, then, our true nature is ONE with GOD and is GOD whether realized or unrealized.
We are ONE with GOD and GOD is ONE with us; both GOD + HUMAN BEING, divine and human, yet unknown to ourselves for the most part. As St. Irenaeus of the 2nd century CE was known to have taught, “God became a human being, so that human beings could become GOD.
There is so much to know about LIFE and very little of it can be processed or digested without some form of Silence. Our post-modern lives, filled with the noises of “living,” circumvents the fullness of LIFE that we often crave. I commend the book, SILENCE, to you especially in audio form, because I have always known, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s book has confirmed my passion for learning of and within— LIFE.
Question: What is YOUR passion? What FRUIT does it bear?
This morning, I walked with a friend along Stony Run. The air was cool, some lilacs wafted their scent our way, and birds of different sizes and temperaments swooped and chirped and called as we talked and walked.
Solvitur ambulando — “It is solved by walking” (attributed to Greek philosopher Diogenes as well as to St. Augustine) – are words that hung on the door of another friend of mine, years ago. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”
I don’t know about you, but the more tours around the sun I make, the more I appreciate the wisdom, power and truth of solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking. Whatever feels burdensome, whatever might be weighing heavily on my heart, whatever thoughts might swirl and twirl, whatever fogginess of mind might have settled into the crevices of my being …
… Solvitur ambulando … It is solved by walking …
During this abundance of springtime, we at Redeemer have been navigating our way through much loss and grief. We are grieving and praying, burying and funeral planning, it feels, right and left. And we are not alone. This weekend, there are two homegoing services with longtime connections to BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development). In my own Filipino-American community here in Baltimore, several “Titas” and “Titos” have made their pilgrimage Home just this past month. And it was a year ago today that my mama surrendered her fierce and feisty and beautiful spirit, accompanied by a giant heart carved in the sand on a beach across the ocean, in Spain, to communicate the truth and awesome mystery that Love Endures.
As we heard a couple of weeks ago in our church services, two friends were walking and talking along a road to a town called Emmaus, a long, long time ago. As they walked, they gave voice to their grief, anxiety and angst over the loss they and their community were navigating, following the gruesome public execution of their beloved leader and teacher. It was as they were walking and talking that the Risen One (… whom death can not hold … whose invitation is to lie down in green pastures, by still waters … who revives our souls … ) was made Present in their midst.
My own experience of walking is that it is life-giving because it gets my blood circulating, and air flowing in and through my lungs. Because it leads me from the isolation of my own private thoughts and into communion with What Is. Because it literally gets me up and moving, out of a place of stagnation and “being stuck”; it seldom leaves me in the same “interior place” as when and where I started.
And in this way, walking is like grace. In the words of writer Annie Lamott: “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
So I will end with a story about Grace, my daughter, who last night was walking to a meeting on her college campus, as she listened in on a prayer service in honor of my mom being held on Zoom. As she was walking and listening, she came upon a giant, magnificent bird, standing in the grass. It was so majestic and grand that it immediately caught her attention and drew her closer. After some further research online, she identified the bird to be some kind of heron, which symbolizes renewal and rebirth. It is also associated with elegance, nobility and style – words which aptly describe my mother. She texted a photograph of the bird, and what she had learned about it, to me, my dad and my sister, after the prayer service was over. For me, her texts were a source of comfort and reassurance, of the mystery of grace … the mystery of Abundant Life… the mystery that, indeed, Love Endures …
So if you can and are able, today or tonight or sometime this week, I invite you to go for a walk and see where your walking leads you.