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Thinking Out Loud

A Soul Sharpened

by Michael Jinkins | Jun 20, 2017

Sharpening StoneI've been reflecting recently on some of the writers to whom I turn most often for guidance: Julian of Norwich, Abraham Heschel, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example. Their writings have always demonstrated to me the virtue of a soul sharpened on the stone of scripture.

Whereas so many contemporary theologians and religious writers seem to believe that the only way to develop a social consciousness is by drilling oneself or one's students on contemporary moral causes and ethical hot topics, without reference to a grounding in transcendence, these writers reflect an alternative. Let the human soul live in constant conversation with the sacred texts of one's faith tradition, these spiritual thinkers tell us, while being attentive to the moment, the situation, the need du jour.

The difference has to do with depth. Specifically, the depth of the soul, heart and conscience of the person living in a particular moment. The difference also has to do with one's ultimate ground of allegiance. We serve others because we serve God. We are "our brother's keeper" and "our sister's keeper" because we have the same holy parent.

One moment gives way to another. The present situation steps aside for the next. Needs of one day may not resemble the needs of another. And the attempt to educate ourselves or others that focuses on the social setting alone, even the injustices of the moment alone, almost inevitably surrenders to either/or dynamics, pitting one group of people against another.

The soul sharpened on the stone of sacred texts finds the timeless in the time, that which is humanly and divinely momentous in the moment. And it knows beyond any doubt that all humanity stands before God troubled by their own limitations and failings whatever side of whatever issue they may stand on. Unless we can find ourselves standing in the shadow of God's paternal grace, we will find it hard to see the face of a sibling in the face of the stranger.

Such soul whetting does not happen quickly but only gradually over a lifetime. Psalms prayed daily become a part of who we are only over the course of long years. Prophets digested slowly and wisdom acquired through the irony of Ecclesiastes or the Sermon on the Mount does not yield to quick acquisition. The Epistles of the New Testament provide a chorus that is as stirring in their frequent dissonance as in their harmonies, and superficial readings will not reveal meaning within either.

The soul text-sharpened is ready for the moment in which God places us. And no other preparation makes quite so much difference.

Which is why we keep reaching for Julian, Heschel or Bonhoeffer when today's hot topics grow cold. They are always there to remind us where we can find the whetting stone.

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