I’ve been thinking a lot about the soul lately – not whether or not there is such a thing (I happen to be among those who firmly believe there is), but rather how best to care for and feed one’s own. It seems to me that a well nourished soul in this life will help insure a happy, healthy soul in the next. I could be totally wrong, of course, but what’s the harm in trying?
Every day of our corporeal lives we feed our bodies meals and our minds information. Why not strive to feed our spirits – as though they were babies needing tender, loving care – spiritual food?
Personally, I frequently turn to my favorite Old Testament protagonist, King David, in the morning to get some spiritual nourishment from his Psalms. David, as I’ve always imagined him, was tall, handsome, strong (and, yes, okay, macho) but also tenderhearted. I love the way this great king humbles himself before his God and makes his heartfelt entreaties:
“Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me; for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day. … O keep my soul, and deliver me; let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee” (Psalm 25:4,5,20).
The wise words of David’s beloved son Solomon also often uplift me:
“Happy is the [wo]man that findeth wisdom, and the [wo]man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold” (Proverbs 3:13,14).
Sometimes, too, I still turn to the tattered old paperback Penguin Classic edition of the Koran (translated into English by N. J. Dawood) that I read each morning when I lived in predominantly Muslim Mali, West Africa, twenty years ago. Here’s a small taste:
“By the heaven, and by the nightly visitant! Would that you knew what the nightly visitant is! It is the star of piercing brightness. For every soul there is a guardian watching over it. …” (Koran 86:1-4).
The God that I believe in is pure Spirit – the Spirit of Truth, Creativity, Love, Kindness — all good things. None of the world’s religions, in my view, can claim the sole franchise on God. As with Rome, many roads lead to my conception of God; and the first step in getting there is taken in one’s own soul. I believe our souls are small, gossamer-slender slivers of that Great Spirit. To ignore our souls is to starve them – and, perhaps (who can say?) fail to fulfill our purpose here on earth.
In Mali I used to play Tracy Chapman’s music a lot. My Malian friend Youssef, who was Muslim and didn’t speak English, couldn’t make out her words, but he could feel her message. He told me in French (the only language we had in common), “I can hear her soul.”
My favorite of Tracy’s songs was and remains, “All That You Have is Your Soul.” This is the refrain:
“Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple
Don’t you eat of a bitter fruit
Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth
‘Cause all that you have is your soul.”
(To hear the whole, beautiful, soulful song, go to YouTube: Tracy Chapman – All that you have is your soul .)
It seems to me – but, of course, I can always be wrong – that our little sliver of the Great Spirit will be all that remains of us after our bodies and minds give out. It’s all that we really, ultimately, have. So we’d be wise, I think, to take the time now, while we can, to care for and feed it.
(I invite you to share in the Comments below how you, too, feed your soul.)