Cultivating the Soul

Spiritual formation can happen without saying a word.
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The forming of the soul that it might be a dwelling place for God is the primary work of the Christian leader. This is not an add-on, an option, or a third-level priority. Without this core activity, one almost guarantees that he/she will not last in leadership for a lifetime or that what work is accomplished will become less and less reflective of God's honor and God's purposes.

In his 20s, William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) wrote a letter to his wife, describing his feelings of discouragement and ineffectiveness. He was close to quitting, he said. Catherine, a remarkable woman, wrote back: "I know how possible it is to preach and pray and sing, and even shout, while the heart is not right with God. I know how popularity and prosperity have a tendency to elate and exalt self, if the heart is not humble before God. I know how Satan takes advantage of these things to work out the destruction (if possible) of one whom the Lord uses to pull down strongholds of his kingdom, and all these considerations make me tremble, and weep, and pray for you, my dearest love, that you may be able to overcome all his devices, and having done all to stand, not in your own strength but in humble dependence on Him who worketh 'all in all.'"

As far as I can tell, Catherine was 23 when she wrote these words. But she was not too young to "get it." William's spiritual core, she understood, was the key to everything.

I shall leave the techniques of spiritual formation to other, more qualified spiritual directors. What occupies my thoughts presently are the evidential virtues that spring—like wild flowers—out of a soul aligned with heaven.

Anthony Bloom writes of a desert father who was invited to preach at a mass where a visiting bishop would be in attendance. The monastic refused saying, "If my silence doesn't speak to him, my words will be useless."

The monk's point provokes me because I spend a large part of my life depending upon words, social skills, and an ability to think quickly on my feet to communicate with people. But how should I communicate if I were limited to silence? It could only happen if there were virtues growing out of my soul like flowers erupting from a renewed piece of ground.

What virtues might those be? With caution I nominate five that are all too often in short supply and which, if long neglected, will signal our demise. The list is neither exhaustive nor guaranteed to be the best. But it's mine.

Harvested Humility

If I was bound to silence, I would wish that people would see that, as a result of my soul work, I have made progress in humility. Humility is not something one achieves; it is the result of other pursuits.

To be frank, people who knew me in the earlier years would never have associated me with humility. I fear such people would remember me as full of self, perhaps overconfident, endlessly in motion. Talented, a bit gifted perhaps, but not a humble man.

"A humble man," Isaak of Syria, said, "is never hurried, hasty, or perturbed, but at all times remains calm. Nothing can ever surprise, disturb, or dismay him, for he suffers neither fear nor change in tribulations, neither surprise nor elation in enjoyment. All his joy and gladness are in what is pleasing to the Lord."

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