Bathing the Filthy Puppy That is your Soul

“What do doctors know about the needs of a man’s soul?”  (Anthony Quinn/Don Pedro Aragon, A Walk in the Clouds.)

It was almost a perfect Saturday.  Almost.

I had a lovely dream last night. Woke up early enough that I could visit a local park and do some hiking, then visit Butt Drugs for a cup of coffee and the library afterwards.

Don't let the innocent act fool you.  She's vicious, I tell you.

But it all sort of fell apart when I went home and spent some time with my family.

There is entirely too much yelling in my family.  There is a snide, sarcastic tone that I hear too often–from all of us, all the way down to the the six-year-old scolding the pug puppy for, well, being a puppy.

Seriously--could you yell at this little guy? Because all of us TOTALLY can.

“What is wrong with us?” I asked myself.  “Can’t one of us manage a tiny little bit of patience with the others? Why is every irritation and annoyance justification for an angry meltdown?”

I started thinking about Jesus. Because frankly, I find him and the stuff he said and did fascinating and relevant and… well, I could go on, but let’s finish the blog post, shall we?

I’ve been reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. I’m not too far into it–it’s dense, heavy stuff, even for me.  But I have been captured by the idea that “the kingdom of heaven” that Jesus insisted was at hand 2,000 years ago is at hand today.   Meaning “available and present.”  As Willard puts it, Jesus’ promise is that we can live an “eternal kind of life” (vita aeterna) now.

It’s gotten me thinking about what an eternal kind of life–the kind of life where things on earth are as it is in heaven–would be like.  What would a person living “in the kingdom of heaven” be like?

You would notice the presence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in his/her life and behavior.  All the things that were noticeably absent today.

And Jesus insists that this kind of life is available.  Not in the future.  Not after I’m dead.  Right. NOW.

Available not just to the religious elite, to ascetic monks living in isolation away from the hum and fray and irritating, annoying habits of other people, but to common everyday people.  Available to self-absorbed neurotic enneagram Four drama queens living in affluent middle America.

It sounds kind of … crazy.  Doesn’t it?  But I believe it.  I believe it because I’ve seen it.  It’s been a partial view, “through a glass darkly,” and you know what? If you don’t look at that murky mirror reflection every so often, the same thing happens that would happen if you never looked in a literal mirror.

The reflection gets messier.

I took a look in the murky mirror of my spiritual fruit today, and saw a soul showing signs of neglect.

Once upon a time I thought “cleaning up the reflection” meant rolling up my socks and trying harder.   Working harder at being good.  Waggling a condemnatory finger at my own soul.

I know it’s not that anymore.  A neglected soul needs care, not condemnation.  Like bathing a puppy who spent an hour rolling in crunchy brown leaves and moss and God-knows-what-else in the park, some of the care is enjoyable and some of it is uncomfortable, but in the end, you both feel a lot better.

One of the beautiful things about being a grown-up 37 year old is, I know how to care for my particularly unique soul. I know what things to pursue and apply (and re-apply, as needed).

The tricky part? Actually doing it.

How’s your soul doing?  What do you feed it when it’s looking a little ragged as reflected in your behavior?  Do you know the needs of your soul?

I’m curious, as always.


  1. ·

    Sometimes I feel like walking away from the church entirely because I know that the things that the church world recommends for healing – work harder, do more, give, serve, ‘be a friend to make a friend’ – are the very things I will ultimately fail at.

    My soul probably needs a good kick in the pants from time to time, but ultimately doesn’t respond well to the typical things that evangelicalism (including the stream that you and I are a part of) prescribes for the cure.

    My soul ultimately responds best to hope…hope that God will save me in spite of myself, and be patient with me, and push and encourage and move me to do good works through His power and strength.

    I’ll take a swig of that. Someone else can have the “good news” of the dude who yells at you from the pulpit for not tithing enough.

  2. Kat

    I feel you on that, Brother B. I call myself an “accidental Baptist” because I got so fed up growing up in the SBC that I was convinced I’d never set foot in a Baptist church again.

    Darn Sojourn, and their stealth Baptistness… They really threw me off with the whole “loving your neighbor and being serious about the real good news.” thing…

    And hope? Hope never fails. I keep reminding myself of that. Hope never fails.

  3. BrianD

    Kat, I see those things everywhere…even, a little, where you and I are now.

    The reason I stay at Sojourn is that people there, in spite of me and my own unique baggage, have reached out to me and made me feel like family. That counts for a whole lot.

    The thing that really concerns me about Sojourn is the stealth Christianese…I keep getting called ‘brother’…I fully blame Sojourn’s stealth Baptistness for this 🙂

  4. Kat

    Well, yeah. Where there are humans, there will be the continental drift towards legalism. Or in the case of some groups of humans, the NASCAR race towards legalism.

    And I like the “brother” thing largely because it reminds me of Desmond from LOST.

    See you in another life, brotha!


  5. ·

    Sorry to be so late to the party, I was out of town for a bit.

    Like you I have learned that when I’m at my worst I don’t need to be condemnatory of myself, I need to nurture myself. I get to my worst spots because I haven’t done enough to rejuvenate my soul, so that’s exactly what I should do when I notice myself slipping from the person I want to be. I’m not as big on hope as a nebulous concept as I am self-empowerment toward reaching my goals and dreams.
    .-= Charles Robinson´s last blog ..playing the hand you’re dealt =-.


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