Saturday, November 26, 2016

Caring for the Soul

As Godly Players and people who accompany children on their spiritual journeys, it is important that we pay close attention to our own walk with God and our soul's condition and needs. Like the seasons of the year, our souls also have seasons. 

I had noticed in the past year that I was many times just going through the motions. Life was going at such a fast pace that I wasn't attentive to what was going on inside me. 

When an opportunity arose for me to go on a spiritual retreat with Communitas International, I knew this was something that I needed to do. I chose this particular retreat, because it was in Ireland and focused on Celtic Christian practices. 

Rather than having a book to read on this retreat, we had a "place as text". The "text" was the ruins of an old Irish monastery called Glendalough. While visiting this place and learning about the rhythms of the people who once lived here, we spent time asking God what we could learn from them and apply in our present lives.

The Celtic monasteries had walls, but the first thing you notice about them is that they were very low walls. They weren't meant to keep people or anything else out. Rather they were meant to be space markers, to show that within these walls, there was an alternative way to live. 

I was immediately reminded of the threshold in Godly Play. We cross a threshold into our Godly Play space and come into a place where we meet with God and each other. The walls of the Godly Play space aren't there to keep people outside, but rather to invite them into a special place. 

The Irish monks embraced life and found meaning and fulfilment in normal, everyday work and living among normal people. Children and families lived inside the walls of the monasteries. I loved imagining the laughter and play of children as I walked among these ruins. 

Even as they worked, the Celtic Christians found time to pray at different periods of the day as a way of returning to God and keeping him in their thoughts. I began to think about the rhythms of my day, and how I could take a few minutes at certain times to "return to God" as well. For me, that would mean in the morning as I am drinking my coffee, when I am working out, during my lunch break, and in the evening when the children have gone to bed. 

The Irish monks also lived in an ebb and flow of withdrawing themselves to be alone with God and afterwards using the insight  and energy they gleaned from the time alone to focus outwardly on the world. Glendalough itself was founded after St. Kevin spent an extended time alone with God in a cave in this national park. This made me think about how much I need this in my life, and about what the natural times of the year are when I can and should withdraw. This flies in the face of a society that is always under pressure to "produce", but we need to do this in order to be more creative and productive in the long run. 

The Celtic Christians were also very attuned to the seasons, and how nature reflected the character of God. Glendalough is in the middle of a national park, so we were asked to silently walk around for several hours and observe what God might say to us through our surroundings. 

And, as if God had prepared the Parable of the Good Shepherd just for me, I stumbled up on a flock of sheep. Not many sheep running around in Berlin, so this was definitely interesting to me!

One sheep had gotten lost from the flock and was bleating his little heart out to find the others. I became internally distressed, because as he got closer to the flock, the other sheep plainly heard his bleating, but didn't bat an eyelash. They just kept munching on their grass, as if everything were peaceful and quiet. It made me think about my own reactions when I see that someone is having a difficult time.  Do I ask God what to do, or do I sometimes just keep on doing my own thing, because that is easier?

So many things to think about. Since this trip to Ireland in October, I have been in a process of trying to establish new rhythms that allow me to "return" to God at different times during the day, even if for only a few moments. I have also been trying to pay more attention to the ebb and flow, and recognise and accept when I need to "ebb" rather than "flow". 

Do you have natural rhythms in your day, week or year that help you to care for your soul? If so, what are they?


  1. Wow, Sheila, this is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing. I loved reading it even after having heard some of the story.
    I like to get up a couple hours earlier than my family to spend time with the Lord and plan my day. Silence is a luxury here and worth getting up early))
    Also had an idea to ask my children when we're out on a walk what God might be saying to them through what they see.

    1. Thanks, Asmic! I am so glad that you are finding ways to invite God into your day as well, and that it works for you to get up early and enjoy the silence. I think asking the children what they see through nature will be fascinating. Please let us know what they observe.

  2. Thanks for this timely reminder at what can often be a frenetic time of year!

    1. You're welcome! Thanks for reading along!