Back in January I attended a weekend retreat called “Awakening Your Wild Soul.” I wasn’t
exactly sure what to expect, but I came away from it restored, rejuvenated. I settled in with some sixty women from all over the country and readied myself to receive. I found a safety of space and an invitation to deepen; to decipher the longings of my soul and to attend to them, to really listen. In a sense, I awakened to a level of authenticity and inner desire that nourished me – body, mind, and spirit.
Some of you may be saying, “What is this ‘soul’ she is talking about?” Maybe your scientific sensibilities feel a little threatened by the notion. Whether we believe in the concept of the soul or not, it has been a part of our common vernacular for a long time now. We speak of having found our soul mate – that close intimate partner with whom we feel a connection of heart and mind and spirit, our very centers reaching out to one another. We think of some people as old souls – people wise beyond their years, imbued with a sense of life and an understanding of the world around them, so rich that one might think it conjured up from past incarnations, not having spent sufficient time in this one to hold such depth. We spend time in soul searching activities, consideration of one’s values and conscience, getting to the heart of the matter.
The soul is often defined as the spiritual essence of one’s being, apart from the physical body while contained within. It is the thinking aspect of our being, our personality and identity; it’s earliest recorded use in the 8 th century. It is that part of us that tends to sensuality – feelings and emotions, moments of inspiration and awe, an inner knowing and oneness with what is. All of this sounds rather ethereal and otherworldly, but it needn’t conflict with the material and scientific processes of our existence. I was reading the other day about Alan Lightman’s book, “The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science.” He suggests that the cause-and-
effect goings on of the atoms of which we are made are only a part of us. He has feelings of being a part of something larger than himself, connections to people and the living world, a sense of beauty, transcendent and creative moments. He believes in and relies upon the laws of science but suggests that they don’t quite capture those moments of experience – like when the deer outside my kitchen window gaze toward me and our eyes meet; transported to another realm if only for a few seconds, there is a sense of something drawing us together as beings, a oneness of all of life. Science and sensuality are compatible, and I think necessary to our wholeness as humans.
So, back to my weekend of awakening! One must get quiet sometimes to hear the soul speak, to tune in and truly hear its inner voice. Our wild souls are also shy, like animals in the wood, we sit patiently waiting for their appearance rather than crashing about in the brush, chasing after something. And quiet ourselves we did – soft flowing music, guided and silent meditation, contemplative practices like mandala coloring (here is mine!), gentle movement, hiking the local trails in winter’s solitude, and thoughtful questions which we were sent off to let our souls speak in response to.
This idea of a soul’s desire is intriguing to me. I think of it as the stuff that we are made of, but more so, the stuff that makes us tick. So often we are too busy to listen that deeply. We have some level of understanding of what we need from life, but we fail to commit time to really explore what that is. There is more to us than what is evident on the surface and when we tap into that next layer, we discover things that bring greater meaning to our existence.
One thing I have noticed recently is how very important creativity is to my living a full life. My soul longs for creative opportunities and when I examine my day to day, I hear it calling out to me and see it manifested in what I choose, how I choose to be and do. I could not be happier than when I am surrounded by fresh veggies and my creative soul is working away, turning them into something aesthetically pleasing, good for my body and a delight to my taste buds. And to share that with others takes it to an even deeper level. Our soul’s desires are meant to be shared. Sometimes we have a service with more of an “altar-like” arrangement up front here, full of color and symbolism; or a ritual that invites our bodies, minds, and spirits into a dance of collective awakening. My soul reaches out to yours in these times. In the midst of it all each of our souls is fed and we are transported, if only briefly, to a place of heightened sensitivity and awareness.
I wonder what your wild soul longs for! Have you taken any time lately to listen to it, wait for it? Quaker writer, teacher and activist Parker Palmer came across an on old saying from his tradition: “Let your life speak.” It is a call to let your highest truths and values guide you. It is living from the inside out instead of allowing the distortions of our world control us from the outside in. And it is an act of intentional listening for what your life intends to do with you as opposed to what you intend to do with your life. What is your soul saying to you, asking you to embody in this life; in these times; in this place? When we ignore that question, we risk losing our authenticity and thus our power to bring to this world all we are capable of.
Each of our souls has a unique twist on life, further enhanced by the potential we bring to the living through our own journeys. When we operate from our soul’s desires we can fulfill the promises of our lives in ways that bring a depth of meaning to all we encounter. Each of us here has incredible gifts that are both satisfying to our souls and necessary for our existence as a part of humanity. It might be my creativity or your desire to make music or another’s deep ability to connect with others. Maybe it is a desire for order or simplicity or beauty. The list could go on, but each of our souls cries out for something and when we hear that voice and follow its lead the world is better for it.
Unitarian Universalist minister and theologian, the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, in his 2009 book “The Cathedral of the World: A Universalist Theology,” implores us to “Be who we are” -that is to pay attention uniqueness and to live out of that, suggesting that we owe the world this offering of our soulful presence. This is harder than we might think in a world of ‘shoulds’ that don’t always seem to fit, and it requires us to really get to know who we are. Doing so allows us to share our greatest gifts with the world. As we become acquainted with our most authentic selves, developing a real relationship with that part of our being, we are enabled to bring ourselves to life in ways full of meaning.
In our reading this morning from Victoria Safford, we hear the question posed, “If you had to name a few worthy things to which you attend well and faithfully, what, I wonder, would they be?” We can hurriedly go about the tasks at hand without ever sorting out the few most valuable things; most meaningful gifts that we have to offer in the span of our lives. If you could only choose a few, would you listen to the voice of your soul, allow it the space to inform your choices? Because so much else will tug loudly on our minds and hearts for attention and action; reaction really. But our shy, wild soul is waiting for expression of these most worthy endeavors to be brought to fruition.
I have talked here before about the concept of shared ministry – the idea that what happens here on the hill is the ministry of this Meeting House, that it is not mine or yours alone, but all of ours together to bring to fullness. What that requires is for all of us to spend some time mining the depths of our souls for that which makes us tick and to breathe life into that quality of being in ways that contribute to the whole of us. This community depends on all of us taking that deeper dive and surfacing with whatever buried treasure our souls have been patiently holding onto for us.
This faith community has a soul, too! It is the melding together of all our wild souls into something unique and beautiful and so valuable to the world around us, even as it is so for ourselves. Our collective soul is calling out and it is time we listened for its deepest desires. I believe that in doing so we hold the key to moving beyond survival to a place of thriving. I was drawing the other morning in my journal book – an image more of a response than words could bring. A giant cauldron on a warming fire. The yellow light of a most full moon centered above. Colorful sparks of life – all the pieces of my melded reality dancing in between – held up to the light and blessed by it. Each one added to the cauldron of living, of life giving and receiving, magnificent to behold, bubbling up. And then I saw myself in that image – arms in a wide embrace of it all, cauldron nestled in my lap, wild gray curls swirling in the night sky. Each of us is a tiny spark added to the mix. This Meeting House embraces our community of love and service, justice, equity, and freedom. Our souls dance in this container made sacred by our presence here. We are held and empowered. Listen to the sacred fire in your belly.
As we enter into this season of rebirth, I invite you to take some time to listen for your own soul’s desire. What is it that is uniquely yours to bring to this community? What is calling out to be given life, to be embodied, breathed into being? Whatever you possess in the depth of your soul, know that it is a piece of an even larger whole, a bit of meaning making from within readying itself to be joined with all the rest. It is welcome here.
In this time of transition in our faith community, we need all of us showing up with our truest selves, bearing our soul’s desires and a willingness to share from that deep well of being. May your souls know the blessing of your attentiveness and may they speak life into your existence, that of this Meeting House, it’s presence here on the hill and its work in our world.
So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, March 26, 2023