The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that: “The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual” (CCC 362).
This means that we are comprised of both the physical aspects as biological beings and the spiritual, which is God’s Spirit in us from the moment we were conceived, and which returns to God when we die.
Further, the soul is defined as ‘“the innermost aspect of [ourselves], that which is of greatest value in [us], that by which we are most especially in God’s image: ‘soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in [us]” (CCC 363). It is for this reason that we are concerned for the human dignity of all people, that is, the desire of all people to come to the fullness of who they are meant to be, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
Just as we must nurture the body with food, rest and cover, so must we nurture the soul. One of the most fundamental ways is to gift ourselves with intentional time and space to allow ourselves to just be.
Some of us find this place in the quiet of our own garden space, and others go to places that seem to “soothe the soul”, such as the beach and the beautiful sunsets, forests and streams and other places which are special to us.
Sometimes, this special time of just being for a while leaves us speechless, with no words to explain the experience. We just know that something or someone has moved us.
When I experience those times, all I can say to God is “Thank you”.
At those times, the words of Meister Eckhart, a 13th Century Dominican mystic, echo in my heart: “If the only prayer you can say in your entire life is ‘Thank you’, this would suffice”. A grateful heart is the beginning of the journey to seeking the Source of it all.
There are two aspects to this sacred journey and the nurturance of the soul – the personal and the communal.
Personally, we know of those graced moments when we know that God is with us, for which we are grateful.
There are also those God-encounters we share with the Faith community, such as the Sacred Liturgy (Mass), during which the soul is fed by the Word of God in the Readings and the Eucharist, when we come to the altar of God to be fed by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Celebrating the Sacraments is an opportunity to partake of “soul food”.
Another important way to nurture the soul, and to seek help with the spiritual journey, is to avail ourselves with the companionship of a spiritual director. A director doesn’t “tell you the way to go”, but rather, seeks to help you listen to what the Spirit of God is saying in your life, to help you to know God who dwells within you. In Irish Celtic terms, a spiritual director may be called an “Anam Cara”, which means “soul-friend”.
Regular connection with a spiritual director can assist you to realise the sacred relationship you have with God, and to share the journey of deepening that friendship with God, in which Spirit speaks to spirit, and which calls each person to become more “fully human, fully alive”: made in the image and likeness of God. What is the Spirit saying to me? I can sometimes work that out by myself, and can also admit that engaging another in the search for the God-thread in the story is very important.
One time, a young woman (who identified as a non-religious person) met me for spiritual direction. She began her story of taking a hike in the desert region. At the end of the day, she rested on a flat rock watching the sunset, the emotion evident in her voice as she retold the event: “The scene was so beautiful and I felt something at the core of my being. Tears were streaming down my face and I didn’t know what to think. What I want to know from you is: Is this God?”.
After a long conversation, she was able to grasp the idea that God was reaching out to her with every one of those kinds of moving experiences, that there was something going on within her: a Spirit to spirit encounter.
Spiritual direction offers people the opportunity to discover the language of the soul with a trustworthy person who can hold the sacred story, and to work on spiritual growth with as much commitment as is allotted to taking that walk in the park for physical and mental wellbeing!
Margaret Scharf OP, D Min (Spiritual Direction) is the Coordinator of Adult Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Perth.
Reproduced with permission from Issue 24 (April 2020) of The Record Magazine, the official publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth.