Anatomy of the Soul: Part 4, a path
We often worry about people who talk to themselves. However, the reality is that we are always talking to ourselves. The function of our soul is to serve as the “operating system” which connects and integrates the heart and the mind and the body. (see part 2 of “Anatomy of the Soul”) With this kind of role, the soul is continually talking to the parts, trying to get them to work together. Most of this “talk” is running in the background of our lives and often with a very low level of awareness.
This metaphor of self talk is highlighted in a passage like Luke 12:19: And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” In this instance, it is a destructive self talk because it is not based upon truth and Jesus presents that reality in the very next verse. However, in Lamentations 3:24, it is a life giving kind of self talk that Jeremiah experiences while Jerusalem is in ruins around him: “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Spiritual health and growth is a function of the kind of “talking” that occurs in the operating system of our soul.
A few years ago, Curt Thompson, a psychiatrist, wrote a book called “Anatomy of the Soul,” and in a recent talk about the book, he spoke about the powerful patterns that are present in our brains. He suggests that certain patterns and thoughts become “hardwired” into our brains. If we understand the brain as the physical counterpart or manifestation of the soul (i.e., the operating system), this is very helpful. In summarizing his research into how the brain can be “rewired,” he shares that there are three things he’s seen that help in the process: physical exercise (which makes sense because of the physical component to who we are), community (this connects with the reality that we relational beings at our core), and meditative prayer (this touches on a reworking of the self-talk in which we are always engaging).
Several years ago, I heard someone suggest that we don’t live according to reality but according to the stories that help us make sense of reality. The danger is that we live according to “narratives” (self-talk) that make us feel better and/or gives us a sense of safety and protection, but in reality separate us from the life that God desires for us. The narrative might be that I need to people please in order to keep from being hurt or that I need to be successful and make piles of money in order to be safe. For many, the story that gets adopted is the isolation story (keep your distance from unsafe people and most people are unsafe!) or the usefulness story (stay busy, be useful/needed). We might even engage (and this is a favorite among religious people) the perfection story which suggests that if we get our act together, all will go well for us. These are the kind of stories that fuel the operating systems of our souls.
The true story line/narrative/self talk is something very different and it begins with the heart and opening our heart to the love of God. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He gave us two things (love God and love others, Matthew 22). Repeatedly, the writings of Holy Scripture link these two things together. In John 15, Jesus challenged His disciples: “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you … love one another as I have loved you.” (vv. 9, 12) Clearly, love is the story line that Jesus challenges us to adopt. Love is the definition of what it means to experience Him. Be loved by Him and therefore love others! We are challenged to love others the way we are loved and we are loved the way that the Trinity loves each other. We are invited to learn the love that occurs (and has occurred eternally) among the Trinity.
The question is: how do we inbed Jesus’ story into our souls?
To go back to Thompson’s observations of the soul, meditative prayer seems to be the key. It has a rich Biblical tradition in the Old Testament and is assumed in the New Testament. Psalm 1 suggests that the wise man “meditates day and night” on the law. This speaks of concentrating our thoughts and hearts on Him. As opposed to praying a list or engaging in conversational prayer, this is a prayer of extended, quiet reflection on the person of God. Specifically, if we are going to see a new “story” imbedded in our hearts, it means gazing upon the beauty of the Trinity. It means taking Biblical truth and quietly repeating it to ourselves for an extended period of time.
For those of a more protestant tradition, one of the “babies” thrown out with the bathwater has been meditative prayer and the repetition of a word of phrase as a part of that meditation. In Matthew 6, Jesus warns against using “empty phrases” and thinking that we’ll be heard for “many words” but this is not an injunction against repetition but heartlessness.
The beauty of meditative prayer is that it can imbed a new story into the operating systems of our souls. The goal is to spend enough time each day (start with 10 minutes twice a day and grow from there) and day after day that new stories fade into the background of our lives, and then we find ourselves connecting with God throughout our day and thinking His thoughts and reflecting His ways from the unconscious parts of who we are.