Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Sound of the Soul

N.B. This is a small selection from my forthcoming book of metaphysical poetry with commentary entitled The Living Legacy by myself and Julie Noelle Robertson. It is a work arranged according to the church year, and intended for spiritual formation. Enjoy. BW3


The sound of the soul

At the speed of light

Passed through my brain

And into the night.

Stifling silence

Sensing the sigh

Feeling the longing

Wanting to cry.

The sound of the soul,

Like a get away train

Doppler effect

Plaintive refrain.

Listening intently

Longing to know

Who am I really?

And does it show?

The sound of the soul

Like a voice in a well

Echoing always

Clear as a bell.

Tuning the instrument

Assessing the tone

Looking for harmony

Searching alone.

The sound of the soul

Out of the depths

Heart cry towards heaven

Wordless precepts.

“By him we cry Abba…

Groaning within

Awaiting adoption

Release from all sin”

“The Spirit assists us

With sighs double deep

Interceding with Abba

My soul to keep.”

Jan. 7, 2006


This poem, somewhat like ‘Something Deep Inside’ is an attempt to express the search for the ever illusive inner or true self. Beyond all the facades, charades, and personas, there is a real self, created in the image of God. The Greek philosophers of course urged ‘Know Thyself’, but from a Christian point of view this is a difficult task, not least because sin and self-centeredness impede the search. Occasionally one gets a glimpse of the inner self, but it is fleeting, like the sound of a train going by, or the glimpse of the back of someone as they run by in haste. One of the things I am suggesting in this poem is that the Holy Spirit who dwells within knows us better than we know ourselves, and not only can illuminate us on this and other subjects, but also can articulate for us what is really down deep inside, what our real heart’s cry is.

I am also suggesting in this poem that there is an art or craft to getting to know one’s self, and that beyond progressive sanctification and illumination by the Spirit there is also the need for us to hone our craft, be intentional about the odyssey of self discovery, not as if we should be like Narcissus staring into the pool at our own reflection, but rather seeking out the particular shape the image of God takes in us.

C.S. Lewis in his last, and some would say greatest literary work Until We Have Faces explores in depth what it means to become a whole self, and so to know one’s self without posturing or personas. He intimates it is a painful journey to take off the masks and see ourselves as we really are. And since we are complex beings we may well ask, which self. Is it the public or the private self? Is the best self actually the real self, or only a pretender? And since personality grows and develops, at least in its self-expression we may well realize that we are talking about a moving target here. Indeed the New Testament suggests this very thing. In texts like Romans 8.28-30 or 2 Cor. 3-4 it suggests we are gradually being transformed and conformed to the image of God’s Son, a process that will not be completed until we reach the eschaton and we get our resurrection bodies. Until then, we are always a work in progress. Notice that according to Rev. 6 this is even true in heaven. The saints under the altar are cranky, crying out--- How long? They are given robes and the implication is they need to hush and be patient. As Lewis would put it, we do not fully have faces until we face Christ in person. Short of that we need to regularly take stock, to face ourselves, realizing we see in a glass darkly at this juncture.

Spiritual Meditations:

“The Sound of the Soul”

  • Lectio Divina: 2 Corinthians 3:4-18

  • Conversation can be a glorious spiritual discipline. Schedule time to grab coffee or a meal with a friend (or friends) and talk in broad strokes about your life and God’s presence in it and allow your friend(s) to do the same. You might need to do this a handful of times to be sure that you get the opportunity to truly reflect and respond to each other.

  • Confession can really free us to discover our true selves. By releasing our false selves through confession, we are better able to live freely and joyfully in this life. Carve out some time this week to confess (privately or with others) where you have not been true to the image of God within you. Ask God to give you strength to see yourself as he sees you and to live into his plans for your life.

Thoughts for Further Reflection:

“[T]he Holy Spirit who dwells within knows us better than we know ourselves, and not only can illuminate us on this and other subjects, but also can articulate for us what is really down deep inside, what our real heart’s cry is.” Ben Witherington III

“We are dead without Him. He must give us life. If we are trying to please Him with our own hard work and good intentions, we will fail. God is pleased and we are saved only when we let Him do the work inside of us.” Dennis Kinlaw

“We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real and which lives by a shadowy autonomy for the brief moment of earthly existence, and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists. It is this inner self that is taken up into the mystery of Christ, by His love, by the Holy Spirit, so that in secret we live ‘in Christ.’”

Thomas Merton

Personal Ponderings on “The Sound of the Soul”:

No modern writer has wrestled more honestly, openly, and beautifully about the interior life that the late Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. A modern day mystic, Merton’s brief life was a contemplative one. The whole of his life was a quest for peace within himself and throughout the world.

In New Seeds of Contemplation, Merton speaks of the necessity of silence, solitude, and prayer. He purports that it is only in these practices that we discover our true selves. This meant life as a monk for Merton, but he believes that the discovery of self through the contemplative is not only possible for others, but also vital for abundant life in the here and now. Merton writes,

“Our discovery of God is, in a way, God’s discovery of us. We cannot go to heaven to find Him because we have no way of knowing where heaven is or what it is. He comes down from heaven and finds us. He looks at us from the depth of His own infinite actuality, which is everywhere, and His seeing us gives us a new being and a new mind in which we also discover Him. We only know Him in so far as we are known by Him, and our contemplation of Him is a participation in His contemplation of Himself. We become contemplatives when God discovers Himself in us.”

This journey to discovering what Merton calls the “true inner self” can only be reached when we dig deep within, listening for the voice of God within. It is an awakening of sorts, but one we cannot attain on our own. We only discover God when we lose ourselves and allow God to find us.[1]

[1] Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions, 1962, p. 37-39


phil said...

From your experience and knowledge, have you found the presence of God, it's strongest when you have taken time to contemplate, meditate and sort of let God envelope your thoughts; rather than treating the Spirit like a source you can tap into whenever?
I ask because I usually become pretty skeptical when I hear speakers reference the Spirit's presence on a whim.

Ben Witherington said...

I myself am not a very contemplative person. Julie my co-author on this volume is, which is another thing that makes it interesting.

In regard to writing poetry, it comes to me unawares and unbidden most of the time, and I take this as the work of the Spirit. I will be minding my own business working, or doing something distracting, or even sleeping, and certain phrases will come into my mind. I quickly get myself to a computer and the thing usually just pours out of me. Then, I tend to revise it so the meter or rhyme scheme etc. works better.


Wafiq said...

Wow, very nice
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