contemplative spirituality

Pilgrimage of the Soul

“What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (Mark 8:36 MSG)

We are pulling up the anchor and setting sail on a new adventure at MainStreet this Fall. To shift to a more earthy metaphor, we are putting on our hiking boots and backpacks, and trudging out into the wilderness of our inner-life in what we’re calling “A Pilgrimage of the Soul.” 

Soul Pilgrim Slides.001

The church of Jesus Christ, when we’re at our best, is a place and a people who are on a shared journey down a path that, God willing, leads to transformation.

We are not in the entertainment business offering fleeting emotional experiences. We are not in the self-help business helping people reinvent themselves through the latest “5-easy steps” to a healthier body, financial success, or a failproof marriage and better sex life. Nor are we inspiring Christians to become “world changers” and “social justice” warriors—though this may be an outflowing of our primary work. We are also not mainly building up and maintaining an organizational institution we call ‘church’—though structures are often needed and can serve our primary task. No, the primary task of the church is to be a midwife of the Holy Spirit, helping people give birth to and continue nurturing the new life God is sowing in each of our souls.

Care of the soul. This will be the emphasis this Fall at MainStreet in our sermons and Lifegroups. But before we can tend to the wheat and weeds of our interior gardens, we need to become familiar with the often strange and tangled terrain. In the words of Dorothy Day, “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” We need to examine our soul’s appetites — for both good and bad. We join the psalmist in daring to declare, “Look deep into my heart, God, and find out everything I am thinking” (Ps 139:23).

We will need to be quiet and gentle as we befriend an often shy and elusive self. As Parker Palmer eloquently puts it:

“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”

Many have pointed out that we see the world around us through our particular paradigms, but relatively few stop to examine the actual paradigms themselves. Something similar can be said of our ‘soul’: we live our entire life and experience every person, idea, and impulse from the vantage point of some constructed or received ‘self’—whether it is our true or false self is an open question. Spiritual growth requires that we advance in self-knowledge. For “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates). And a more accurate knowledge of our true self leads us to a knowledge of God; and greater knowledge of God will lead back to a better understanding of self. 

Thomas Merton, one wise guide into the interior garden of the soul, says: 

“The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls.”

I (Jeremy) am excited and a bit nervous about this new journey, and hope the rest of MainStreet is up for the challenge. The journey is overdue. To shift the metaphor once more, for years we have have expressed a desire to be a church that offers more than a Sunday carwash for a little shine, but instead an automotive shop that opens up the hood of the heart and gets hands greasy dealing with the engine beneath, i.e., our soul. Despite this desire, we have often ended up putting off this time-consuming and costly work and just putting more miles on our tired, sputtering engine.


This Fall we will be turning to the ‘spiritual mechanics’ or soul-experts in the contemplative tradition and beyond. We will get our hands dirty putting to use an ancient spiritual tool called the Enneagram that will heighten our self-awareness and compassion toward those who are different from us. We will dare to believe that the gospel is not mainly rescuing our souls for Heaven when we die, but rather, in Christ, Heaven is wanting to invade our soul here and now– to befriend us, take up residence within us and transform us for his glory!

So, fellow pilgrims, let the journey begin!

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