A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, October 30, 2011
Selection from Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul
Have you ever felt like life has wrung you out, like one would wring out an old mop or dishcloth? Have you ever felt like an old, run-down watch that has lost its spring and vitality? Perhaps you sometimes feel like the spirit has been squeezed out of you like one would squeeze the juice out of an orange, leaving nothing but the lifeless pulp. If so, then you may be in need of soul restoration.
Everywhere we turn we can see people who are suffering emotional pain and inner hurt; people who are confused or fearful; people who are brokenhearted or lonely; people who are despondent or clinically depressed. The truth is, the soul of a person can become ill.
But just what is the soul? How might we define it? This is a question that poet Mary Oliver asks in a number of her poems. And Thomas Moore, in his book, Care of the Soul, observes, “It is impossible to define precisely what the soul is.” But then a couple of lines later Moore notes, “We know intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth. . . . Soul is revealed in attachment, love, and community. . . “1
I have always thought of the soul as that spiritual part of us that makes us who we are. The soul might be seen as that aspect of us that leads us to search for God and urges us to consider right and wrong; that which motivates us to be good, loving, and forgiving. The soul might be looked upon as that divine life force within us, that part of us that seeks to connect with others, the Creator, and creation. In the opening pages of Genesis it is written, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (2:7 KJV).
But as already noted, life can be hard on the soul. Life can wear the soul down and sap the soul’s strength. The soul can become off-center or unbalanced. Every now and then our souls need to be re-centered, put back in balance. Every now and then our souls need to be restored. But practically speaking, how does this happen? Well, I can only share with you some ways that my soul has been restored.
One primary avenue to soul restoration is a vital spirituality. Thomas Moore contends, “The soul . . . needs spirituality . . . a particular kind of spirituality: one that is not at odds with the everyday and the lowly. . . The soul needs an intense, full-bodied spiritual life as much as and in the same way that the body needs food.”2
For instance, over the years I have found soul restoration in scripture and devotional reading. Through reading stimulating religious literature, we may find new strength and vitality for the soul. The Psalmist saw God to be the Divine Restorer of his soul. “He restores my soul,” the psalmist says in the beloved 23rd Psalm.
I have also found soul restoration through prayerful meditation in a special place. Something many people find helpful is having a special spot in the home or on the lawn, a relaxing place where they can retreat for study and meditation. Many adorn their meditation spot with religious objects or objects from nature that are meaningful to them, things such as a candle, picture, statue, a piece of stained glass, and so forth. Others play some soft, relaxing or inspirational music during times of meditation. Such meditation spots can be a tremendous help in bringing restoration to the soul, even if practiced only a few minutes each day. Thomas Moore agrees.
Over the years I have also found soul restoration in spiritual retreats with other ministers. And even in family vacations to the mountains or shore. You can do some serious soul thinking while walking on the beach in the early morning. Such getaways have the potential of giving us a whole new outlook on life. And spiritual advisors often suggest bringing objects—seashells for instance—from retreats and vacations back to one’s meditation spot, office or work station as relaxing reminders of that special time that brought restoration to the soul.
Another primary avenue to soul restoration is community. The soul may be restored as one talks with someone about issues that are troubling him. The root of many soul problems is a sense of spiritual failure and alienation from God. Many persons who go for counseling or psychotherapy might also do well talking to a minister or a spiritual counselor, for their problem is at its root spiritual in nature.
Others find that having a good friend with whom they can bare their soul and talk through issues of life is therapeutic and soul-restoring.
I have also found that our souls may be restored through corporate worship and the ministry and fellowship of the Church. I am convinced that the Church—more than any other institution or organization on earth, perhaps—has the potential of bringing wholeness to the troubled soul.
To give you an example, I would like to share with you a true, but tragic story. The story has a good ending and demonstrates the healing power of community. The late Rev. Julian Maxedon, a minister friend of mine, told of a man named Charley who lived in his hometown. Charley had a reputation of being the best automobile mechanic in the county. Back in the days when automakers were producing so many of the big V-8 engines, Charley was the V-8 engine expert. As soon as somebody bought a new Chevy with a big engine, they took it to Charley so he could tune it up and get the most speed out of it possible.
One day after tuning up an engine, Charley took it out to the highway for a test drive. He was running it hard and fast. As he came over a hill, a little girl stepped out in the highway in front of him. She was killed instantly. The worse part of it all was that the little girl’s parents were Charley and his wife’s best friends. As you might imagine, Charley lost all touch with reality. He was sent away to a mental hospital for treatment. Weeks of therapy brought little improvement. Eventually Charley was sent back home. But he could not work. Every time he tried to tune an engine, the scene flashed before his eyes and feelings of guilt and remorse flooded his soul. Then one day Charley went to church, something he had not been accustomed to doing. Instead of condemning him, the members of the church rallied around him, giving him much-needed attention and support. Charley experienced a newfound faith and became a member of that church. Because of the love, compassion and support Charley received from his church, he got well. His sanity was restored. His soul was healed.
As a church family, we have the joy of welcoming people here to this place and enabling them to be touched and made whole. We have no idea what heavy burdens people bring with them when they come here. Truly it is as the character Father Angelo says to Joseph Wayne in John Steinbeck’s novel, To a God Unknown, “Your soul is sick. Will you come to the church to make your soul well?”
Avenues to soul care are many and varied. Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul, discusses numerous ways that we can exercise soul care, including various facets of spirituality; cultivating healthy family and friend relationships; being in community; appreciating beauty and sacred art; finding and living out our true, inner self; finding “soul material” in everyday, common things; and more.
Like a cold drink of water and relaxing rest under the shade of a big oak tree on a hot, summer day is spiritual restoration for the soul. As Moore rightly notes, we neglect the soul to our great detriment, and the detriment of those around us. But we don’t have to—neglect our soul, that is. The avenues to soul restoration are readily available to us. May we make use of them to realize the restoration for the soul all of us desperately need every now and then. Amen.
1Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994, pp. xi-xii.
2Ibid, pp. 203, 228.