- Soul Stories
- Suggestions for the complicated
- Inventing God?
- What the dying man knows
- Learning how to suffer
Modern people may have difficulty agreeing that there is such a thing as the soul, but they would not want to be locked in a room with someone who does not have what the tradition calls “the soul.” And those who deny the soul’s existence may very well discover that they have locked themselves in just such a room.
A primary care for the soul in human history is the telling of stories – not just any stories – but soul stories. I have coined this phrase to help us think about myths. Many modern people think that ancient myths are stories that were told in an attempt to explain a universe that was not understood. And so we think that now that we understand everything, we have no more need for such stories. But myths are not stories of “how?” They are stories of “Why?” and “What does it mean?” and “How should I live?” The answer to such questions are found in the formative stories of every culture.
When Plato described his ideal society in The Republic, he required children to learn to play musical instruments, and described it as a requirement of the soul. The soul requires beauty. It requires poetry, and song. It requires the capacity to live and not merely consume.
A deep failure of modernity is its jettisoning of soul stories.
(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Care of the Soul)
Suggestions for the complicated:
1. Quit caring so much. The world does not depend on you getting the right answer to life’s questions. Answers often come when we learn to wait patiently for them.
2. Quit comparison shopping. Truth is not a commodity. You don’t want the “better” one. You want the right one.
3. Quit thinking so much. If thinking would solve the problem and make things less complicated, you’d be through by now.
4. Look for beauty. Beauty doesn’t make us think so much as it makes the heart a better listener.
5. Take some time off – from as much as you can.
6. Get some sleep.
7. Give away money. At least someone will benefit by this discipline.
8. Sing (beautiful things). The part of your brain that sings is much more closely wired to your heart than the part that thinks.
9. Ride a bus. Worked for C.S. Lewis…
10. Go inside a Church. Worked for Kallistos Ware…
(Fr. Stephen Freeman, When Belief is Complicated)
We cannot invent God and be satisfied with the result. Any God you can invent is too little to be your God. The religious term for this discovery is revelation. It is a religious finding-out.
This is one of the deep misunderstandings that modern atheists have about religion. They suggest that religious believers are inventing something. But that is not at all the nature of religious believing. What believers experience is closer to beauty and math. They perceive something that they did not invent.
Discovery is an aspect of tradition, the experience we have when we confront that which is handed down or given to us. And it is worth noting, that this is simply part of how the world actually is. Its givenness is its primary quality and our discovery of its givenness is a primary quality of our sanity.
It is the abandonment of this primary human experience that has become a hallmark of certain aspects of modernity. Modernity believes that the world, even human beings, can be re-imagined and newly invented. Gender-experience, it is suggested, can be self-defined (along with a continual string of new “rights”). But these inventions are not discoveries. They are nothing more than the assertion of power. They become oppressive inasmuch as they cannot be discovered in a manner independent of their brutal assertion. And they will be maintained as an invention, only through the continuing use of coercion.
(Fr. Stephen Freeman, God by the Numbers)
I worked for a couple of years as a hospice chaplain. During that time, daily sitting at the side of the beds of dying patients – I learned a little about how we die. It is a medical fact that many people become “anorexic” before death – that is – they cease to want food. Many times family and even doctors become concerned and force food on a patient who will not survive. Interestingly, it was found that patients who became anorexic had less pain than those who, having become anorexic, were forced to take food. (None of this is about the psychological anorexia that afflicts many of our youth. That is a tragedy)
It is as though at death our bodies have a wisdom we have lacked for most of our lives. It knows that what it needs is not food – but something deeper. The soul seeks and hungers for the living God. The body and its pain become a distraction. And thus in God’s mercy the distraction is reduced.
Christianity as a religion – as a theoretical system of explanations regarding heaven and hell, reward and punishment, is simply Christianity that has been distorted from its true form. Either we know the living God or we have nothing. Either we eat His flesh and drink His blood or we have no life in us. The rejection of Hesychasm is the source of all heresy.
Why do we fast? We fast so that we may live like a dying man – and in dying we can be born to eternal life.
(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Why We Fast)
The Christian gospel is deeply entwined with the problem of suffering (when it’s properly taught). But it represents an understanding that is at odds with the modern account. As ironic as it may seem, Christians need to teach the world how to suffer that the world might be healed.
It is jarring to hear that we “need to teach the world how to suffer.” It conjures up notions of flagellants beating themselves with cords or other bizarre notions. It sounds callous and cruel and utterly lacking in compassion. But, to a large extent, the art of living is found in the art of suffering well. And, strangely, the failure to suffer well is perhaps the greatest source of suffering itself.
I will gladly place suffering that involves extreme pain within a separate category. It deserves its own separate treatment. But the larger category that we describe as suffering, largely consists of shame. Shame is the unbearable emotion, according to psychologists. It is also the first recorded human emotion in Scripture. The Christian life, properly lived, voluntarily bears the shame within our existence, and even volunteers to bear the shame of others. It is at the heart of the life of salvation …
Where I would draw our attention in this article is the interior act of bearing our suffering. For it is there that the soul is formed and shaped into the image of Christ Crucified …
The inner act of acknowledging our shame, and sitting in its presence without anger or sadness, is an act of self-emptying. When we are in such a place we pray, “O God, comfort me.” It is then that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, can enter in and grant us the great comfort of the image of Christ being formed in us. It banishes anger and dissipates sadness… we acknowledge it with patience and attention.
(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Unavoidable Suffering and Salvation – The Way of Shame)
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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)