The Taming of the Soul

“The only thing you ask of me is not to hide from you, not to run away in despair…” - Henri Nouwen

A few years ago, an old friend told me a story of an elderly Quaker woman who was asked to describe her “soul.” After a brief pause—as if peering into the depth of her being—she looked up and reluctantly described her soul as a timid wild animal who was was skittish and easily spooked.

Being a bit of a Turkey hunter, this resonated with me. Turkey’s (and other wildlife) are extremely difficult to hunt because of their uncanny ability to sense danger coupled with their super-developed senses. There are more times than I’d like to admit when I’ve trampled into a silent wood only to stomp on a twig and hear something scatter (probably my prized Turkey!) deep within the forest.

Any hunter will tell you that in order to be successful, you can’t go galloping into the woods in broad daylight yelling, “Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!!!” You have to sneak into the woods quietly and settle into one spot quickly and softly.

Then…you sit.

You sit as simply and silently as you possibly can without moving a muscle and you watch and listen. And if you are lucky, after a time, out will pop the animal you woke up early to experience sending both exhilaration and fear through your veins.

The same is true with our souls.

The deepest parts of who we are love to bed down and remain hidden in the thicket of our lives. Our souls do not willingly rear their heads or allow themselves to be “spotted” very often–or at all. More often than not, they are spooked away and driven into the tall bushes of our busy lives when we trudge so quickly into our various religious activities like going to church, reading the Bible, and praying. There is a reason why no one likes to “bare their souls” to one another (especially to God); our souls don’t like to be seen, they like to remain in the darkness.

I can honestly say that for most of my life, I have clamored into "times with God"--bible in hand and prayers on my lips--only to send my soul scampering in the opposite direction.

But after "throwing in the towel" and making it a practice to sit silently and simply with Jesus, I've been able to catch small glimpses of my scared and fragile soul. And after spotting him, I can tell you that he is gentle, but very shy and very hurt. The only way I can describe my soul is like a small child, who after being severely frightened, sprinted to his room and slid under his bed. But every now and then, when things are silent and the coast is clear, my soul will peep his head out from the hidden harbors of my heart and tip-toe into the open for me to see. And every time, I'm filled with exhilaration and fear. I'm exhilarated to finally see my truest self, but fearful that he'll hurt me or I'll hurt him.

This week, I invite you to join me in allowing your skittish soul to come out. Pick a spot and settle in silently and softly. Then…sit. Sit as still as you possibly can and watch and listen. Once everything is still, your soul will slowly come out of his or her hiding place. When you see him/her for the first time, don't make a move. Don’t judge what you see. Don't break out your Bible. Don’t think, “where on EARTH have you been!?!” Just sit and look as compassionately as you can at your truest self.

As your soul comes into focus, it’s ok to wonder:

Who is this before me?

What is he/she like?

What has hurt him/her?

What is his/her greatest fear?

What if my soul has a secret that would hurt me?

Don’t worry, though. Sit and be still. The two of you desperately need to meet.

“All I can do is show myself to you. Yet, I am afraid to do so.” – Henri Nouwen

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