“My role and my soul were eating one another alive.”

That disturbing sense of disconnect led Barbara Brown Taylor to leave the priesthood and move into education after a period of detox from her professionalised spirituality. The externals of ministry can force the pace and demand us to function in ways that are at odds with who we are in the core of our being. We run the danger of gaining a whole world of recognition while losing our souls. When criticism and negativity eat into us, cynicism forms a hard carapace on that precious part of us we call our soul.

Time to stop and listen.

Look to the Lord and his strength.

Seek his face always. (Psalm 105:4)

Rowan Williams speaks of how we have secularised the “soul” and reduced it to the ever-present and ever-demanding “self”. He says that our self recovers its place as our soul “under the gaze of grace”. Eugene Peterson echoes that view when he describes the self as the soul minus God.

Time to stop and look.

Look to the Lord and his strength.

Seek his face always.

Under the gaze of grace our withered soul blooms and blossoms again. That deep inner core where heart and mind and strength are held together, turns towards the God of grace and discovers a smile of welcome, without reproach. The shell of repressed resentment melts slowly. And we smile back.

Time to stop and pray.


Look to the Lord and his strength.

The spiritual guides of the past encourage us to an athletic discipline of a rhythm of prayer and contemplation. Entering the silence to sit in God’s gaze of grace in the morning before the eyes of the world are on us. A quiet nod of recognition in the middle of the day and a gentle closing of the gate on the day before we sleep.

Time to stop and see with new eyes.

Look to the Lord and his strength.

Seek his face always.

Like the tidal rhythms of the ocean, our soul begins to seek the face of God, and we begin to recognise his face in others who leave traces of grace on us. In time we even see the face of God in those who hurt us or put us down. We learn to offer them the gaze of grace and bless them. As we linger longer in God’s presence, he will “take from us all we need carry no longer, that we may be free again to choose to serve and be served.” Role and soul will walk in step with each other again.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! And forget not all his benefits.            


By Peter Neilson