Last week at the start of Lent we suggested that in this season we stop and rest while our soul catches up with our body.
I wanted to go through a couple of exercises with you this morning … nothing that will mean getting out of your pews or any kind of physical exertion. Let us call them spiritual exercises … that I think is a good definition for what religion really is .. a set of spiritual exercises that allow us to grow and develop our internal lives. In the absence of spiritual exercise I suppose we will become inwardly weak and flabby as we would in the physical world without exercise. I hope that makes sense to you .. the idea that Sunday mornings offer you a spiritual workout that gives you the edge in matters of faith and conviction?
Anyway let’s undertake this morning’s workout. I want you to imagine that your soul is indeed catching you up this morning. It is fast approaching now that you have stopped to wait for it to catch you up .. Jesus tells us this part of you .. your soul .. is the most important aspect of your entire life journey. In our Gospel he writes .. ‘what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’
What a precious gift our soul is then … worth more than anything in the world .. unable to be compared in value to anything else in the world. And yet so often we allow the busyness of this world and all its demands to let us ruch ahead paying it no attention and giving it no card or concern.
In our spiritual exercises this morning then I am inviting you to allow yourself to picture your soul now coming into focus out of the distance and the dust of your busy journey. Take a moment and wonder to yourself ‘what does my soul look like as it comes into view?’. Ask yourself if you had to paint a picture of your soul this morning .. what colours would you use? What shapes would you use? These are not rhetorical questions .. I invite you to actually do this exercise. The picture might not have human form or even any form .. artist paint in so many different forms whether abstract or impressionistic or surreal or whatever .. paint your own picture of your soul in your minds eye but allow it to tell something of the story or your soul … let it enable you to answer the questions how is your soul this morning?
Perhaps this is not the kind of exercise you find easy. Perhaps you don’t think in pictures. Let us take the Old Testament passage instead for a different kind of exercise … I wonder whether you have ever thought about the name God uses for you. What does God call you as a child of God?
Our names are perhaps less important in this culture than in many throughout history and throughout the world. What’s in a name as our most famous bard wrote … but in the BIble a name is all important. A large number all people of faith had their names changed in order to reveal how God truly saw them. Abram became Abraham … Sarai became Sarah .. Saul becomes Paul and Simon becomes Peter … just a few cases where God’s name for that person reflects who they are spiritually .. what they are on the inside … so what is God’s name for you??
When I undertake this exercise I often end up with something like one of the seven dwarfs .. does God call me Grumpy, or Dopey, or Lazy or Forgetful … but you might want to use more than one word .. how does God name you given that God knows you and loves you? Are you a ‘facer of fact’ ‘one who comforts others’ a light in dark corners’. Take a moment .. when God sees your soul what words come to God’s attention? Let me tell you whatever you might come up with the answer includes words of love and affection. Like a parent using a name of affection for their beloved child..
This kind of spiritual exercise is not simply to be done in short bursts … at Jesus Baptism his soul , the Spirit of God, appeared like a dove .. that was what Jesus soul looked like, white and peaceful and tranquil, then God named Jesus from the cloud here is my Son with whom I am well pleased. And then Jesus took 40 days to go and reflect and exercise his thoughts towards the revelations.
Why not try this exercise throughout Lent? Paint yourself a picture of your soul .. in your mind or on paper .. decide what colours your life is reflecting into the world .. ask yourself what name your Father in heaven might be giving you and how this might change the way you see yourself. For in fact over time, over a season of reflection, you might find your soul comes into focus a little more and you see yourself more truly and more fully.
Who you really are .. that precious soul which is beyond price and that name which is eternal and not fleeting .. this is what we attend to when we exercise our religion in Lent. Let us become stronger in faith and more established in love through attention to the scriptures and their deep message of truth.