Awakening my soul21 Jun 2023
Prayer and worship move us towards lives that are filled with God’s love and open to each other and the world.
Life is full of trade-offs. We swap our time for money, we invest our life in projects, we exchange freedom for security and we seek comfort over growth.
Jesus was aware of the temptation to haggle our lives away and roused his disciples from their slumber with a challenging question, “what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:26). This followed his explanation of the true cost of discipleship and the profitability of gaining the whole world at the expense of losing one’s soul. The Mumford and Sons song ‘Awake My Soul’ takes this one step further with the line, “where you invest your love, you invest your life”. What needs trading-in to awaken your soul?
Jesus taught his disciples that their humanity must equal total love, but we regularly miss how much we short-change ourselves and others, settling for near enough. Christopher West calls this “flat tyre syndrome”.
He says, “We’re all driving around town (the world) with flat tyres and wonder why we are frustrated. Christ came to fill the tyres so we can get through life properly.”
Archbishop Christopher Prowse has referred to it as living in a zombie state, sleep walking through life on a treadmill – going nowhere. It’s a grim picture, but fortunately we have the choice to stop reaching for the snooze button of life.
Unforeseen and unprecedented events of life help wake us from our bleary-eyed state and cause us to suddenly cling to every precious second. This might be the loss of a family member, the birth of a grandchild, a car accident, the coincidental meeting of a friend or a global pandemic. These moments rattle our cages, remind us about what is important, provide much needed perspective and spark something at the level of the soul. Sometimes we need to be woken to ourselves, our prejudices, our biases and our fears. This is far from the popularised idea of being “woke” which originated in the activist movements that sought to challenge injustice and racism. Today, being woke has been aligned in popular culture with a disingenuous outrage on behalf of others.
Conversely, genuine openness and availability to the needs of others may be the key to the awakening which Christ has called us to. It’s not about awakening to a higher state of personal consciousness, but rather, it’s about intensifying the focus of our love on the whole of creation. Mary’s Magnificat offers a beautiful and humble account of someone who is living their life for others. In Luke 1:46 Mary exclaims that her “soul magnifies the Lord”. She doesn’t claim to have increased the size of God through her soul, but like a magnifying glass, Mary’s soul helps bring God into greater clarity to those around her. There is no doubt that this clarity is needed today.
Our souls are easily clouded with burdens and temptations and lose the clarity of a life lived in the image and likeness of God. Like Mary, we have the choice to say ‘yes’ to the challenges and joy of Christian discipleship. Pope Francis notes, “when we enter our hearts, we find things that aren’t OK . . . there are unclean things; there are sins of selfishness, of arrogance, pride, greed, envy, jealousy. . . If we open our heart to Jesus’ mercy, in order to cleanse our heart, our soul, Jesus will trust himself to us.” (The Joy of Discipleship)
Jesus tells us that He came “that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (John 10:10) but living life to the full doesn’t imply we need to squeeze more into it. It’s not about living with the anxiety of FOMO (fear or missing out), stuffing our calendars full of good things, at the expense of peace.
NEED TO FORGIVE
Father Timothy Radcliffe challenges this hedonistic approach to life with his reminder that “to be fully alive is to be able to hope, and to forgive . . . in this doom-laden time, we need also to forgive”. Forgiveness releases our soul. It’s like the warmth of sunlight that awakens new life from the darkness underground. Even in this time of dormition, the soul remains active, growing silently in the darkness.
Prayer and worship have the power to transform the soul from a lukewarm state, to being on fire with God’s love. God reaches the depths of our soul and communicates an unfailing love through silent contemplation, singing the psalms, the accompaniment of others, spending time in creation, reading the scriptures and being nurtured by the sacraments.
Psalm 136 tells us that “God’s love endures forever” and these profound experiences of prayer and worship move us towards how we were called to live.
When our soul is awakened, we magnify the Lord, and this leads others to encounter God. Saint Catherine of Siena reminds us that if we are being who God meant us to be, then we will set the world on fire.
This article first appeared in the 2023 winter edition of Madonna magazine.