Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. (Psalm 103:1)
I love the way David seemed often to live from his soul. There is something about that idea, and about these words that begin Psalm 103, that is very appealing and intriguing to me. I tend to live, all too often, from my head, or from my fears and insecurities, or from my surface reality, or from my circumstances. But when I do this I get the constant sense that I am missing something, that there is much more to life than what I am experiencing at the moment, something much deeper. And I think this something deeper has a lot to do with living from my soul. My sense is that my soul is the deepest part of me, the uncharted depths of my being. It seems very mysterious and abstract, but at the same time it seems to be the most real part of me that exists. And it is a place that I long to live from regularly, but one that I, unfortunately, seem to be aware of and in touch with far too infrequently.
So just what is a soul anyway? And how do we bless God with it? The word soul in the Hebrew (nephesh) comes from the root naphash which means to breathe, to take a breath, or to strongly pant. Our breath is the part of us that gives and sustains life. Therefore, nephesh (soul) is that part of us that makes us most alive. It is our being, our essence, our is-ness, who we really are. It is who God dreamt us to be. Dallas Willard once called it "the deepest part of the self." Or, as a dear friend said to me recently, "It is the part of you that burns inside." In short, the soul is the place we were created to live out of. It is the part of us that was made for intimate union with our God.
And the word bless in the Hebrew (Psalm 103:1-2) means to kneel or adore. So when David says, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name." He is saying, "Let the depths of who I am, who I was dreamt to be, adore the one who made me that way." To bless the Lord with all my soul means to turn towards God and open my most intimate places, in adoration, to him. To engage him with all that I have and all that I am.
But the soul can be an elusive animal. As a matter of fact, I once heard someone describe the soul as a deer; which makes total sense since Psalm 42 uses the image of a deer to describe our soul's longing for God. "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you , my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go meet with God?" (Psalm 42:1-2) I am not much of a hunter, but I do know that if you want to see a deer it will take time and patience, stillness and attentiveness; any sudden movement or commotion will scare it away, back into hiding. And so it is with the soul. If you want to have access to your soul, most likely all of these things will be necessary as well. There are times, however, when you just "happen upon" a deer completely by accident. You just look up and there it is, as surprised to see you as you are to see it. These moments happen with the soul as well. Sometimes, when we are least expecting it, the soul just shows up. It might be a scene from a movie, or a song, or a sunset, or work of art that suddenly captures you, and low and behold you and your soul are standing face to face. These moments, as they are with deer, are rare and beautiful. They leave us different than they found us. And if me are willing to take the time and the space to reflect, and to mine their treasure, they can offer our souls food for days and weeks to come.
But what of the intentional moments? How can we be more like David? How can we live our lives more consistently from my souls? I guess the easiest answer is to pay careful attention to the things that bring us to life inside, and to consistently make these things a regular part of our practice. These things can help us to have access to, and live from, our souls more often. The other day I heard an incredible question in this regard, one that I hope to reflect on and wrestle with in the days and weeks (and maybe even months and years) ahead. The question was: "What fuels your soul to keep you stumbling toward love?" And what a great question it is! It is a question that realizes a few central truths. First, it realizes that our soul is the engine that drives us, in whatever direction we may end up going. Secondly, in recognizes that the soul can't run on its own, it needs fuel to keep it going, whatever that fuel may be. That is up to each of us (since we are uniquely and wonderfully made) to figure out. And lastly, it clearly shows us that the purpose of it all is to continually stumble in the direction of love. Ultimately life, even my life and your life, is not about us, but about God, and about him being known and glorified both within us and around us. So, this day, let us consider our souls. Let us live constantly from them. Let us consider what offers them the fuel they need. And let us, always and everywhere, continue to stumble in the direction of Love.
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