I don’t know if it is the same for you, but I am surprised how quickly the time for the NCT, (National Car Test), comes around. This of course is equally true with regard to time for a service. I suppose life is so fast, that before we know it, oil needs changing, tyres are worn, bulbs are going, and the poor old motor needs some tender loving care. Of course, this is not just true of our cars, it is also true of our bodies: maybe even more so. If we neglect our teeth, our hair, or our feet, we end up paying a
high price. These days we will often hear advertisements urging us to have a full medical. Often times we are reminded that for men over a specific age they should have such and such a check, and similarly for women. It is true, just like the old car, our bodies show signs of wear and tear, and need periodic attention. Indeed now more than ever, apart from the need to avoid passing minor ailments or more serious illness, we are more conscious of pampering our bodies. This is particularly evident in the increasing availability, and indeed demand for, massage, makeovers and spa treatments. In addition to this physical reality more and more people have become conscious of their inner world. Many turn to counselling or psychotherapy, and there is a surge of interest in, what is rather loosely referred to as mindfulness. If we are increasingly concerned for our cars and our bodies, both skin deep and deeper, surely we should at least consider the question, that this might also be true of our souls?
‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?’ ( Mk.8:36)
I wonder if we brought our souls in for a complete service how would we fare? Would there be much work to be done before we passed the NCT for souls? How many of us would get off with a few minor adjustments? How many of us would need major work? My feeling is that most souls coming in for a service these days would need considerable work. This is not all the individual driver’s fault. There are very definite factors at work over which we have very little control. The truth is that the spiritual
environment that we live in is not always good for our souls. There is a smog hanging in the air that makes our souls ill. Apart from the personal things which we can become involved in, that can lead to soul-sickness, there are some more general, as it were environmental causes, of this often neglected dis-ease. Noise, technology and the general pace of life are often not conducive to a healthy soul. There are many who simply cannot handle silence. It frightens them. God knows what might come
up from the silence. Maybe ghosts from the past, or indeed a futuristic fear that may jump out at us. The truth is that we can broker a peace treaty with silence. Silence can become our friend. For example none of us want to be lonely. Loneliness slowly suffocates our soul, but what if the ache of loneliness was to become a lovely desirable solitude? Might not it then become balm for the soul; healing and soothing.
How might we know if we are suffering from soul-sickness? A lack of joy might be a good indication that all is not well. We need to be careful though, not to confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is passing and often superficial, and the truth is there is not much wrong with it, as long as we do not confuse it with real and lasting joy. Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit and is as deep as a draw well. The vacuum created by the absence of joy will often be filled with an early indication of serious soul-sickness, that of cynicism. Cynicism is a spiritual cancer. It sucks the goodness out of life. It slowly kills our ability to enjoy. Technology of course is not always bad. It helps though, if we remain in control, rather than become controlled by it. Social media is a powerful tool for getting, and remaining, connected. It can also be good fun. However I have just had a lovely afternoon with one of my best
friends. We greeted each other with a good warm hug, and did the same when we were parting. We drank lattes and chatted and laughed and nearly cried. I enjoyed it all and was glad to see his face and smile. I was happy to watch his many facial changes. I was engaged by the music of his varying tones. More than this my friends I would not swop the joy of meeting him in person in exchange for two hundred friends on Facebook.
Finally it might be helpful to ask what might be involved in a complete overhaul and service for the soul? In the same way, as at the NCT there is a checklist which signals sound car health, so too there might be at least the makings of a spiritual health list. In the same way that our bodies our unique, so too are our souls, so any list should be approached with caution. Some generalisations might be helpful. A daily mix of spiritual reading, prayerful silence and reflective attendance at some communal
liturgy, more often than not, the Eucharist, will certainly contribute enormously to soul-health. Good choices regarding books read, and movies watched can be important. The people with whom we spend quality time can often contribute, or detract, from soul-nourishment. So a pro-active decision might be to cut down on time with the cynical person, and perhaps increase time with the more positive or hope-filled person. In addition to all this I would not underestimate the value of a good Spiritual Director, nor the impact of an annual pilgrimage. Finally I would like to record a little clarification on mindfulness, mainly because it is so much in vogue at the moment. Mindfulness and meditation, and to some extent yoga, have all become attractive as an antidote to stress. They are offered as methods of becoming calm. Indeed some say that each of these are, to a greater or lesser extent, instrumental in lowering blood pressure. I am sure there is truth in all this. However I am a little alarmed at how people tend to equate this with prayer. The question I would ask is, where does the specific practice lead to? Often it is explained as a form of decluttering or emptying of the mind. Admittedly there is some overlap here with Christian Meditation and prayer. This is true in the idea of emptying, but it’s what happens then that is crucial. In so many of these practices the aim is to empty, to declutter or to rid one’s mind of internal noise and distraction. What ensues is relaxation and calm.
However for us as pilgrims, as followers of Jesus we are called to more, much more. We are called to deep communion with the Lord. If it’s Christian, then the emptying, the quietening the decluttering is done in order to invite Jesus into the space that has opened up. It’s when we invite Jesus into this space that we are at prayer. When this happens we have moved from a relaxing exercise, that may well lower our blood pressure, to the exciting adventure that is prayer. When we get serious about
prayer everything changes. So my friends the next time you are preparing for the National Car Test remember that Now is Christ’s Time!