Imaginary friend: So, Greg, here we are back at Chico's Upper Bidwell Park, and our peripatetic musings on the soul is about to end, and Iwonder what topic you'd like to address.
GSC: I want to put it all together and respond to the question of how do our souls get formed. What are the sources for soul growth?
Friend: And by the way, who am I?
GSC: You’re the people that have affected and do influence my life spiritually—like my pastors Earl Palmer, Mark Labberton, “the Quad” (which is comprised of me, Gary, Ric, and Dan), and my wife, Laura, and countless unnamed others.
Friend: All those disparate people together?
GSC: Yes, see what you can do!
Friend: OK, maybe I’ll just ask questions! Can you list the sources for soul growth?
Seven Sources for Spiritual Growth
GSC: There are seven that I can think of: Scripture, theological tradition, art, prayer, meditation (or contemplation, mindfulness), corporate worship, and service.
Friend: Ok, speed round! Scripture?
GSC: It’s the definitive and authoritative keystone of the way God has acted and spoken. First of all, we’ve gotta read it and grasp the whole sweep of Scripture, to know God’s story and see how it becomes our story. Here’s a reading plan to grasp the overall story of the Bible that I helped put together.
We also need to let it saturate our mind, to chew on it as a cow chews the cud. One excellent practice is lectio divina (literally "divine reading" in Latin), which leads us to find a passage of the Bible and see how it speaks to us.
Friend: Theological tradition?
GSC: We have to get to know the masters like Augustine and his Confessions, John Calvin, Blaise Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. (And, of course, there are many, many more.)I’ll get back to Lewis and his Screwtape Letters later, but the point here is to learn from these are great minds and souls that have gone before.
GSC: Art comes in so many forms. I’ll just comment on visual art and music. When I look at this piece, how can I not take in a new aspect of God’s care for us as the Prodigal God that takes in the Prodigal Son? When I listen to great music like Hillsong, I find God’s presence.
GSC: This has probably been the greatest area of growth in the past few years for me—to find myself quieted and calmed like a child (Psalm 131). I’ve been drawn recently to the practice of mindfulness as a way of calming my soul and preparing me for intercession, for service, and for life generally.
Friend: Prayer as intercession?
GSC: By prayer here, I mean, with Paul (Philippians 4:6-7), intercession with thanksgiving. We lay those burdens on God.
Friend: Corporate worship?
GSC: As much as like Alfred North Whitehead, I disagree with him that religion is what we do with our “solitariness”—we need to meet together and direct our attention, our praise to God. It can be pretty wonderful. But I also have to mention C. S. Lewis’s comments in The Screwtape Letters on the disappointing reality of the local congregation, the church as it actually exists.
It’s so good, I’ll quote at length—and remember this is from the perspective of a devil who’s trying to tempt a human soul,
“One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do riot mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes I our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather in oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
GSC: Jesus tells us that he is somehow present in the “least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46). In serving in his name, we actually meet him. Which is kind of wild. It’s all about our public witness to the Gospel, which is where I’d include our testimony, our words, as well.
The Most Important Source
Friend: We’ve arrived at the end of our walk.
GSC: Speaking of “ends” or goals, I’ll close with this: Our hope is a beautifully integrated life, fully alive. Integration—that’s what the Spirit brings. And if the soul and the spiritual life mean anything, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And that’s where I’ll end, with this hope—the hope grounded in the One who will continue the work that has begun in and among us. That hope is the Spirit of life.