For over a year now, my go-to soundtrack has been Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More. My favorite song is “Awake My Soul.” The lyrics are prophetic and profound, and the melody moves from slow to heart-pounding.
Lifted up as a verse to consider on clergy retreat, we listened to “Awake My Soul.” During silence, we were invited to engage with God, to see where God is stirring our spirit to move.
See there, I just used soul and spirit interchangeably. But in fact, that would be incorrect. Like I listen to Mumford & Sons when I run, I also listen to podcasts. I was working out when I heard On Being’s Krista Tippett ask scientist Dr. Sherwin Nuland about the Hebrew term nephesh. Ms. Tippett described this idea as the “soul which is emergent…a Jewish sensibility of the soul as being something that emerges in relationship.” Dr. Nuland responded:
“it all is related…to the Greek notion of pneuma, the notion that the soul exists in the universe and with your first breath you inhale the pneuma, P-N-E-U-M-A, and that is the life-giving force. ‘Pneuma’ is actually etymologically related to ‘psyche.’ So you get psyche, spirit, soul all together in one, but the origin of it is this thing that you inhale.”
The term we know as “soul,” came from Latin, the idea of the one “sole” or main thing in common with every living being that God has made. But nephesh is so much more complex. It is better understood as air and breath, that which keeps the whole in life.
It makes sense that I contemplate these thoughts while I am at the gym or running outdoors. (Nerdy, perhaps, but provocative.) I inhale and exhale. I pray that the Pneuma moves through me as was first breathed into humankind. I ask that my soul be awakened to what God is calling for my life as I move the body that God gave me. I work my mind and my muscles, giving thanks that I am able to do both.
And then we come to the last lines of the song:
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
I am given this one body. I must treat it with respect and care. It is the only body I have. And yet, my mind, my psyche, my spirit, and my soul, are all bound up in my body and with all human beings’ bodies. We are because God breathed into us and united us to God and each other to be in relationship.
When we awaken that part of us which is centered on God, we will be prepared to meet our Maker, to love God with all our heart and soul and spirit and mind and body. May it be so.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.