Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 30, 2006


It helps to let your soul catch up with your body


          Call it burn out. Call it exhaustion. Whatever you call it, most of us have experienced it. For me it is a time when I need to slow down and let my soul catch up with my body.

          Exhaustion is no mystery. We know why it occurs. We drive ourselves to the limit as though everything depends on us. This usually makes us harder to live with, and the people around us wonder what is going on.

          So it was that this week I found myself in the woods of Georgia, south of Atlanta, inviting my soul to catch up with my body. It dawned on me how much I needed this time apart when my wife insisted that I go.

          In that secluded place I took the time to look at an Oak tree. It needed no help from me to make shade with its multitude of green leaves. Little birds unseen made their presence known with quiet singing that calmed my spirit.

          I sat in the sunshine for awhile, moving only slightly the old rocking chair beneath me. The gentle breeze made me wonder why I spend so little time sitting quietly to allow my inner wheels to stop spinning.

          The water of the small pond nearby was peaceful, disturbed only by the two swans that came ashore for lunch while I was watching. They seemed not to notice me as they nervously gulped down seed from the tall grass. They are eating too fast, I thought; they’ll have indigestion. The inner voice said, “You are just like them; you eat too fast too.” True. No need to argue.

          I was not alone during my retreat from the fast track. Some 22 of us shared the four days. All of us were there at the invitation of our friend and Soul Doctor, Ben Campbell Johnson. Ben’s expertise is Christian spirituality, a subject he taught before his retirement from Columbia Theological Seminary.

          Our special guest was retired Bishop Reuben Job. The depth of his spiritual devotion was winsome and stirring. We sat on the edge of our seats eager to drink in the wisdom of his years. We were not disappointed. The pathway he has walked, and continues to walk, is not an easy road. It is the road of integrity, discipline, forgiveness, compassion, and servanthood. And it is the only road worth taking.

          The framework of our days was quite monastic. That is, our days began and ended with scripture, prayer, singing, and the Eucharist. While it seemed demanding at first – to gather for worship seven times a day – it proved to be a rewarding experience.

Our day began with worship and a time of contemplative silence at 4 a.m. The day ended with worship as well, allowing us to retire for bed about 10 p.m. That made for short nights but I shrugged off thoughts of fatigue by remembering that my turkey-hunting friends handle short nights with ease. If they can do without sleep to hunt gobblers surely I can do it to hunt for more of God.

The reverently structured Divine Offices, as they are called by the Monks, help you get in touch with yourself, and with God. I have discovered, to my great surprise, that reading, chanting, praying, and singing the Psalms can allow God to energize your soul.

The group I shared these days with is a hodge-podge of people from different walks of life, laity and clergy. Most of them flew in from distant places. We represent several theological persuasions.  What amazed us all is the sense of community we realized – a community of loving acceptance, compassionate affirmation, and a desire to learn from each other.

The Monks need not fear; I am not after their job of serving God by constantly living a monastic life. But I can learn from them, especially from their constant focus on God and how he wants us to live.

Doing for a week what the Monks do all the time has helped my soul catch up with my body. I realize it is not a new thing. King David described it centuries ago in the greatest of all his psalms.  It is simply taking time to let the Shepherd of our souls do what he does best: “He restores my soul.”

For this refreshing, undeserved restoration I am, once again, truly thankful.  + + +