Friday, December 9, 2011

Hope for the Soul

In August I participated in a Circle of Trust Retreat led by staff from the Center for Courage and Renewal. The mission of the center, founded by Parker Palmer, is "to nurture personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it." They accomplish this by leading activities that help people reconnect who they are with what they do. It's an individual activity done - amazingly - in the midst of others who are busy doing the same thing.

I had hoped my time at the retreat would be as as productive as a deep house cleaning. Instead, I took first steps toward such. I had not considered the condition of my soul and its lack of readiness until - in the noisy solitude of thought - it tentatively presented with dings, dents, and stains. Fully intact, yet worn and tired.

It was wounded. It had been waiting. It needed more than a rest and refuel.

I had to wrestle with the concept of a chronically wounded soul - a life lived amid conditions so overwhelming that role and soul exist in a perpetually entwined state. Not life-giving like the interwoven roots of giant sequoias but entangled like a sapling grown into barbed wire.

Attempting to diagnose the severity of my woundedness became my priority.

Had I been wounded beyond my capacity to heal? Had my soul been so constricted that it could never again fill with regenerative life? If I was able to heal, did I want to?

No. No. Yes.

A soul - I discovered - is resilient beyond a human's capacity to comprehend, but it needs help.

Time and tenderness.



This week encouragement arrived in the form of a card from the Center for Courage and Renewal. Tucked inside was a quarter-fold paper with a piece by Victoria Safford taken as an excerpt from "The Small Work in the Great Work" in The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear edited by Paul Rogat Loeb, © 2004.

I read it word by word, feeling the crescendo of a wildly exclaimed "Yes!"

Victoria Safford knows my soul. She understands the loneliness of truth-telling and the paradox of joyful struggle.

She gets me. See sees what my soul has seen and what it hopes to see again.

I offer her words to you. May they resonate with truth and joy and light. And, in them, may your soul - like mine - claim hope.

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope-not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of "Everything is gonna be all right." But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truthtelling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we're seeing, asking people what they see.


Mrs. Sopko said...

I loved this. It made sense to me. It didn't make me feel like I needed to be something more, something better or something different. Thank you.

Joy said...


And thank YOU ...

Mrs. Olson said...

The soul has always seemed delicate to me, but perhaps it has the courage and resiliency of which you speak. Beautifully written, Joy. Thank you for it.

Joy said...

Paradoxically delicate and resilient.
I continue to wonder about wounded souls and if they can ever be wounded beyond repair. Just can't bring myself to believe that's possible. Either I don't want to acknowledge it or it really isn't possible. Guess I'm firmly planted at the gates of hope. Thanks for commenting.