This is Part I of a late summer series exploring the highlights of the past year while also taking stock of what this blog is all about. If you have a friend who is a soulful reader, this series would be an inviting place to join the conversation.
What does it mean to live a soulful life? For me, a soulful life could never be a static condition or a state that one arrives at having crossed some sort of arbitrary marker. Rather, a soulful life reflects a direction or movement toward an ideal or marker while also knowing that arrival is really impossible.
The marker I choose is the concept of Oneness. When I wrote about Oneness back in March, I described it this way:
Oneness is the idea that we are all interconnected, that we live in union with one another…For me, oneness asks me to not only love what God loves, but it also challenges me to understand that my well-being is tied up with the well-being of others. In other words, if I love God, I can only be as comfortable, safe, and secure as the least comfortable, least safe, and least secure creatures.
I went on to describe the anxiety that a life directed toward Oneness creates:
[Oneness] makes me anxious because, of course, I can much more easily choose to ignore God. I can choose instead to believe I am as comfortable, safe, and secure as my material wealth and situation allow…[Yet] it is my choice to love God. So I need to learn to live with the anxiety that oneness brings, understanding that it is a holy anxiety and one that is going to push me to stretch out my heart, mind, and arms in order to build understanding, advocate, witness, and serve. And to forgive myself when I fall short and spend time in reflection again and again to right myself with God.
Tools for the Movement
If living a soulful life is an anxiety-producing movement toward an unattainable ideal, then it’s important to have some powerful tools to aid the journey. As I reflected on my earlier writing on Oneness, I realized that I had also already written about my most powerful tools: Friendship, Compassion, and Preparation.
In my previous post on friendship, I explore the value of making and having friends across a spectrum of beliefs, which is a powerful thing. Friends with varying perspectives can help us see our challenges in new ways, guiding us to new ways of being. But I also cherish friends who understand intimately exactly where I’m coming from. These friends can more easily offer comfort. I need all of these types of friends for a truly soulful life.
Compassion is another important tool for the soulful life — compassion both for self and others. Paraphrasing Krista Tippett again, to have compassion is to see beauty in others and accept mystery. I believe that we each have the same capacity for love and the same capacity for fear. The soulful life asks me to do what I can to promote love and to be forgiving toward fears.
Movement toward a goal requires some type of preparation. And movement toward an unattainable goal, requires constant preparation. It also involves a lot of waiting. Most of our lives take place in-between significant happenings, events, and big decisions. Instead, we have day to day and week to week choices for our versions of waiting and preparing.
Each of these tools — friendship, compassion, and preparation — involves various forms of reading…actually I would call these different forms of Soul Readings or contemplative actions.
Friendship requires acts of presence and much “reading” and discernment of relational signals. Compassion requires a constant adjustment to see the love in others and to discern the most loving actions in varying situations. Waiting and preparing asks us to think about and use our time meaningfully — whether that is for rest (a need we should never be embarrassed about); reminders or renewals about what we value most; or to be pushed out of our comfort zones.
Taken in a very broad way, Soul Reading becomes a way of life. And for me, it feels like a way to a more soulful life.
In this series I want to explore Soul Reading as a contemplative and active stance toward the world. I want to broaden your notions of what it means to read and what it means to act. Part II of this series, Soul Reading as a Way of Life will introduce the concept of contemplative action and situate Soul Reading within it. Part III will further explore reading far more than books. Part IV will discuss the companionship reading offers. And Part IV will urge us all to bring a sense of balance or harmony into our reading lives.