By Canon Mike D Williams
Amen, Amen, Amen – sung by the choir at the end of Evensong on their first day back in the Cathedral was uplifting for the soul. I was looking up at the wonderful vaulted ceiling of the Nave as the sound rose in worship to God. I looked in awe at the skill and dedication of those who created such a soaring building to the glory of God. When you combine the beauty and structure of the Cathedral with the beauty and sound of our musicians you are taken to a different place.
Humans are spiritual people. The idea of us having a soul has a long history helping us to think about the spiritual side of life. Taking care of our soul is not just about religious experiences, although they are important. The Bishop of a Diocese is given the ‘cure of the souls’ which he shares with the clergy who minister in the parishes. Cure meant ‘charge’ as well as ‘care’. Thus, the spiritual welfare of parishioners was and is the business of priests.
In modern life we separate religion and psychology, spiritual practice and therapy. Building bridges across this divide is both necessary and urgent. I listen on the radio recently to someone speaking of the ‘science of wellbeing’. Research shows that people feel better if they take time each day to appreciate something, however small. Ignatian exercises have been saying the same thing in a different way for hundreds of years. For me this illustrates the divide where psychology and therapy have taken over the care of the soul by using different language and not recognising or choosing to reject the deep spiritual traditions and sources found in religions. Such traditions and resources are many and varied and run the danger of become an individual activity devoid of connection to the real world.
At the heart of activities that care for the soul is a point of convergence where our prayer and commitments to the world in which we live come together in what Philp Sheldrake describes as a ‘conscious human response to God.’ I’m a fan of Ignatian spirituality as it helps me connect to my heart and imagination when I listen or read scripture. Caring for the soul means connecting to what is God helping you to notice. Paying attention – what do we see, what do we feel as well as what do we think – individually and collectively? How to express our sorrow, how to we love Jesus?
In a world in which identity is being increasingly atomized we might choose to remember our broader identity as children of God, to share in the wonder and awe of the Cathedral, the music and our collective sense of the presence of God that feeds our soul and inspires us to serve others.