“The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity.” Dallas Willard
Yesterday, Zondervan published what I believe will become a spiritual classic: John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping. When I read Pulling Back the Shades a few weeks ago, it was like dutifully getting a series of Hep B vaccinations, but meditating my way through Soul Keeping felt like savoring a box of Harry and David’s succulent pears! Also, in trying to summarize what I learned, it feels like at best I might only be able to describe the taste, but what I really wish for you is to enjoy it for yourself! I can get a free copy for the first person who asks, but after that…I’m willing to share my copy with anybody else, or you can buy one on-line for as little as $13.25 or $5 Kindle.
So, what’s so exciting about Soul Keeping? It spotlights something we don’t often think about: our soul…”the life center of human beings”…that which “seeks harmony, connection, and integration.” Ortberg distinguishes it from “self,” which focuses inwardly. “Ironically, the more obsessed we are with ourselves, the more we neglect our souls,” because the soul exists before God and is made for relationship. The soul is that deepest part of ourselves that we cannot entirely fathom; its health sustains us during our most terrible struggles, but if our soul is sick, even sunny days can seem bleak. Ortberg walks us through understanding what our souls are, what they need for health, what damages our souls, and how to find help and healing for our souls. He points out that we alone are responsible for the condition of our souls. “The stream is your soul. For it to flow freely, the keeper of the stream must clear it of anything that becomes more important than God.” And, we are the keeper of our souls! As Ortberg later points out: “We all commit idolatry every day. It is the sin of the soul meeting its needs with anything that distances it from God.” Soul Keeping shines a bright light into the issues of our hearts and souls!
A few of my favorite take-aways (and there were many…I keep mulling things over and remembering more) include:
*Renewing my attempt to practice the presence of God (à la Brother Lawrence), because “The soul thrives not through our accomplishments but through simply being with God.” “How many moments of my life today can I fill with conscious awareness of and surrender to God’s presence?” “God wants to make every moment of my life glorious with his presence.”
*Resting my soul in God. “The soul was made to rest in God the way a tree rests in soil.” “The test of a sustaining spiritual practice is: Does it fill you with grace for life?” Abraham Heschel: “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul…Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, in the seventh day we try to dominate the self…”
*Remembering the “Cycle of Grace” (1. acceptance in Christ, 2. resting in sustaining grace, 3. finding significance in being a sign pointing others to God, and 4. achievement as a fruitful vine, abiding in Christ). “The opposite of the Cycle of Grace is what might be called the Cycle of Works. In this, I simply go backwards against the tide of grace. I begin by trying to achieve impressive accomplishment through my own strength for my own ego. I hope that by doing this I might feel significant. I hope that this sense of significance will sustain me through all the difficulties and stresses of life. And ultimately I hope that the end result will be a life that is somehow acceptable to somebody. The cycle of works will destroy my soul. It is the hard yoke. It is the heavy burden.”
*Responding to life by keeping centered on God (as Ortberg explains after trying to ride a mechanical bull at a fair): “It might not be all that easy, but the key is you have to stay centered, and the only way to do that is to sit loose. People try to clamp on too tight. Don’t do that. You have to be flexible. If you think you can be in control of the ride you’ll never make it. You have to follow the bull. You have to keep moving. Shift your center of gravity as the bull moves.”
Well, time’s up and word count is too high, but Soul Keeping is an A+ book in my mind, and I believe it will have an enduring, positive impact on my life. Let me know if you’d like a copy!