Waiting for Our Souls to Catch Up

What do we most want? Our honest answer might be — more time. We never seem to get everything done and so something has to be put on hold. That is too often our soul’s care.

While we might not have put our dilemma into just those words, we do often feel harried and in need of something that eludes our grasp. The more cynical among us might see it as a kind of betrayal by some of the institutions we once relied on to support us.

Our political system has devolved into bitter partisanship, with the public good a pale mirage; our churches are often groping for their lost place in our culture; and our schools have become so test results-driven that the “joy of learning” might evoke a bitter chuckle.

Too bleak a picture? Put like that, it is, but each of these contributes to our personal and social dis-ease. We have a hunger for the more. Is there a way to satisfy that hunger?

I love the story of the two Englishmen who were exploring in the heart of Africa in the 19th century. So engrossed were they in their new-found world that the calendar escaped them until they realized that they had a very limited time to get to the port on the nearest coast before a steamer would leave for England. If they missed it, weeks would elapse before the next one would dock.

In haste, they packed up their camp and called their native porters to shoulder the baggage. Off they set at a goodly clip. One day, two days passed, and they were nearing the coast. But on day three as the explorers clapped their hands for everyone to set out again, the bearers refused to rise from beneath the trees. Their spokesperson explained, “We have been going too fast. We must stay here and wait for our souls to catch up with us.”

Myth or fact, the story makes a profound point. We moderns have long ago left our vital spiritual component somewhere in a jungle clearing. Do we wonder why we are so frazzled?

We are sometimes diverted by a nostalgic longing for those good old days before modern living got in the way and filled both nights and days. We rue what was lost.

If you can find a nonagenarian, have a talk with him or her. They might challenge you about what you have done with the time saved since the advent of automatic washers and dryers, with the packaged and frozen foods that pushed aside daily grocery shopping, or with the energy saved when one no longer has to shovel coal and clean the ash pit.

I recently lost a centenarian cousin who could remember gas lamps and homes without telephones. It was an “old” world, but how “good” it was she would have debated with you. She loved modern living.

Nostalgia is a powerful way to glorify what is no more. Let’s be real and admit the lesson we have to learn from our bodily structure. Since I am not an atheist, I do believe in creation, and I stand in awe of the Being who imagined us into life. Just look at yourself.

You have a head that only focuses well by looking forward, feet that move most readily in that direction, and a body that is frontally oriented. To me, this structure says a great deal about where we need to focus.

By all means, let’s turn around and check where the past has a lesson to teach. It is only the fool who does the same dumb thing twice. But then, let’s turn back to this moment, this day, and celebrate that.

I have not forgotten those 19th-century porters that we left in an African jungle. In terms of worldly wealth, they had little. They had even less of scientific know-how and probably almost nothing in terms of a worldview of their civilization.

However, they possessed something that the self-important European explorers had misplaced somewhere during their life journey. The porters knew they had a soul, a spiritual component that was intimately bound up with their physical being. They could see no point in driving themselves beyond exhaustion just to catch a boat. In their thinking, there would be another some other day. In the meantime, an inner self was crying out to be rested and reunited with a fatigued body. They were wise men.

And here you stand with a dozen excuses and no real reasons. Pick up that imaginary key and give yourself an experience. Commit yourself to prayer time, reflection time, for the next two weeks. Be faithfully honest and honestly faithful. Stick with it despite everything that might entice you to abandon the effort.

When children get overwrought and overtired, we adults know enough to call for a “time out” for them. Why are we so blind in regard to our own needs? We applaud those who take the time for physical self-care. Is our inner self less important?

You are going to make great discoveries about yourself, your world, and that wonderful seesaw which is life. Up or down, the view is real. We learn that we need both perspectives because life is never static.

Some days, just sit in the quiet and let it touch you. I love the story of the elderly woman who used to sit quietly in her church for long periods of time. When asked what she said to God, she replied, “I just look at him and he looks at me.”

Sister Carol's Sunday morning classes are streamed live online at 10:00 a.m., ET, repeated most Sundays at 12:45 p.m., ET. (Encores streamed in July and August when Sister Carol is away). Old episodes are available in Marble Collegiate's Webcast Archive or on Vimeo.