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Friday, July 20, 2012

Soul Work

I love serendipity.  I think it's the playground of the Holy Spirit.

I love it when you have "accidental" conversations with people that have unexpected results.

Like the one I had earlier today with the bank teller at my local supermarket. Now, there's a combination that is absolutely ripe for serendipitous conversation.

I've known her for about a year. We had a great conversation as I was opening up my new local bank account. She had just moved here from Brooklyn with her husband and was, like me, still finding her way around town. She knew things I didn't and I knew things she didn't and we had a wonderful gabfest, sharing information. Whenever I'm in the market, I always stop by to see her, just to say hey.

I mentioned to her that she looked tired but, at the same time, had a wonderful glow. "What's up with you?" I asked.

"Why do you ask?" she said.

"I don't know, exactly," I said, "but by the looks of you, I'd say God is doing something in your soul."

She looked a bit startled and then laughed and said, "Well, actually, it's a bit lower. I just found out that I'm pregnant."

We exchanged delighted squeals and huzzahs and hugs and then she grew quiet before she asked, "Why did you say 'something is going on in my soul'?"

"Well, isn't it?" I asked.

"Actually, I think it is," she replied, "but I'm not sure what it is exactly." She paused for a moment and then said, "I'm due for a break. Do you have time for a cup of coffee .... I mean, milk or juice or water (giggle)?"

I didn 't really, but my curiosity decided that this would be a good investment of my time.

We went over to the little cafe (yes, a grocery store with a bank and a cafe), ordered our stuff while chatting excitedly about baby clothes and furniture, and then took a seat at one of the small tables.

She stirred her juice with her straw as if it were coffee and then said, "I think I'm changing. I mean. not just on the outside. Okay, right, I'm changing on the inside, too, but....well....I you something is happening in my soul. What IS that?"

"Well, what does it feel like?" I asked.

"I don't know, exactly," she said. "It's like....well...I'm thinking about things that are important to me. You know? I mean, like what do I really value in life? I don't just want to pass along DNA and blood and tissue and bone. I mean, what values do I want this child to have?"

"And that," I said, "is causing you to examine and reexamine what's in your soul?"

"Yes, exactly," she said. "I mean, I can't sleep at night. Sometimes, I lie awake waiting to feel the baby move. I know it's too soon for that, but still, I keep waiting for it. And, while I'm waiting, I keep trying to imagine what she...or, he...will look like. I try to imagine teaching her...or, walk, or ride a bike, or skip rope, or .......well, you know. Like that. It's just so hard to imagine it and yet, I know it will happen and I can't wait....and yet, I don't want to rush it....I want to enjoy my pregnancy....but then I wonder what kind of mother I'll be and if I'll be good enough and if I'll make the same mistakes my mother did, and how I can be different, and how I can be the same - the good things, you know?"

She sighed and laughed and said, "I'm not making any sense, am I?"

I smiled, remembering my own pregnancies. "Of course you are. You're pregnant. Pregnancy has its own logic. It doesn't have to make sense to anybody else. The truth is that it doesn't make sense and yet it's all perfectly logical."

She frowned and sat back in her chair. I could see the little rise in her belly where new life is growing and, despite my best efforts to remain professional and cool, I broke into a wide grin.

"I'm already showing, right? Oh, my God. I'm going to be as big as a house," she said.

"Nah, probably more like a whale," I said as she tossed her napkin at me.  "At least, that's the way I always felt. Like a beached whale."

She groaned. "I already do! Holy crap, how do women do this?"

"Sometimes with grace and style," I said, "and sometimes, well, not so much."

"So," she said, "What is it that's going on in my soul?"

"You are becoming more of who you are," I answered.

"Yeah, well, we've already covered the 'beached whale' thing," she said.

"Actually, the questions you are asking yourself about values and principles and what you want to pass on to your child are questions of the soul. It's 'soul work'. It's hard and it's exhausting but this is one of the great gifts of being part of new life."

"Some people experience it for the first time during pregnancy, but you don't have to be pregnant - or even female - to experience it. Soul work happens whenever life happens - but especially when life throws you a curve-ball. It could be a pregnancy or it could be a death. It could be a very carefully planned event or it could be something that just happens - even a tragic accident."

"Soul work," I said, "is about becoming more of who you were created to be. It's about being authentic and honest. It's about gaining clarity about what makes life worth living - and, what you are willing to die for. It means letting go of the parts of yourself that need to die so that other parts of you - the parts that have been over-shadowed by the carefully trained "public you" - can come into the light and be nourished and grow. You become more of who you are so you can give more of you away. I think we call that 'love'."

She thought over my words carefully and said, "You know, just last night, I said to my husband that I thought pregnancy was all about giving birth to a baby but it turns out it's about giving birth to myself, too. The funny thing is that I didn't even know I was going to say that, and I'm not sure what I meant when I said it, but the amazing thing is that he looked at me and said, 'I feel the same way.' Is he doing soul work, too?"

"Undoubtedly," I said.

She sat quietly for a while and then said, "Wow, all that stuff about the 'miracle of new life' is really true, isn't it?"

"Yes," I said, "yes it is. And, pregnancy is just one manifestation of it."

"Soul work," she said. "I can't wait to tell my husband about this. He's doing 'soul work'. I'm doing 'soul work'. And," she added, her eyes averting mine and a blush coming up on her cheeks, "We don't even go to church. Maybe we should, eh?"

"Maybe," I said. "And, if you're lucky, you just might find a church that is open enough to handle your questions and your doubts, your anxieties and your certainties, your values and your principles."

"Right," said she, now brightening, "And that would be The Episcopal Church, right? I mean, I've been reading all about it in the newspapers. It's really very cool - and, very courageous - what you all have done. What you stand for. The values you have."

"We have certainly had to let parts of us die in order to get to this moment, that's for sure," I said. "I can point you to three church in the area that are progressive. One of them is bound to fit. But, if they don't, keep trying. I don't know how anyone lives their life without being part of a community of faith."

"It's sort of like what you were saying about pregnancy," she mused. "I mean, for The Episcopal Church. It's like part of you - the old part - has died and now you're pregnant but you don't know what that new life is going to be like."

I smiled and laughed and found that I couldn't resist saying, "Well, I guess we've been talking about human sexuality for so long, we shouldn't be too surprised to find ourselves pregnant."

We both laughed and chatted some more and then it was time for her to go back to work. She promised to show me the pictures of the sonogram after her doctor's appointment in two weeks and then I went on with my shopping chores.

The Episcopal Church is elbow-deep in conversations about re-imaging and structure. I hope, in the midst of those conversations, we are aware that what we are doing is 'soul work'. We're not just passing along DNA and tissue and bones (structure).

We are clarifying our values. Deciding what makes life worth living. Determining what we're willing to die for. And, all so we can pass them onto the next generation of Christians.

Soul work. 

It's about doing the hard work of dreaming something into being and discovering that, in the process, you are becoming more of who you were created to be so that there's more of you to give away.

I think we call that 'love'.


Malcolm+ said...

Dammit, Elizabeth. You made me tear up again.

The Church as expectant mother. I'm reminded of the medieval iconography depicting the Mother of God in stole and chasuble.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, Malcolm, maybe it's just the remnants of the GC77 crud.

Thanks. Seriously though, hope you are feeling better.

Fr. Chip, SF said...

Great story...and witness, Elizabeth. That's what it is all about, after all...three church choices...very rare type for a pastor-type, huh?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Depends on where you live, Chip. Pickins are pretty slim in some places. We are blessed in LSD.

Grace-WorkinProgress said...

Nice post. I have been doing serious soul work the past few years and just when I think I am done something else pops up.

Madeline said...

Hello Elizabeth, I loved this blog!I found it while was searching an image on google... And now, I'm following "Telling Secrets", I'm from Brazil, sorry my poor English!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mariana - Your English is perfect. I'm deeply flattered to have you following this blog. I can't promise never to disappoint you - only to always try to do my best.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Grace - That's the way it is with soul work.

Madeline said...

Thank you! So, drop by my blog too! There is a button to translate... Hope you like it! http://marianazo

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Um blog bonito. Obrigado!

Jo Crawford | Crafting the Sacred said...

Dear Elizabeth--

I am unable to find an email to contact you privately at so am leaving this as a comment.

I am the artist of the "express yourself" collage that is included in your post. Could you please remove it from your blog as it does not contain attribution to the author (myself) and I did not authorize its use in other publications.

Thank you for your consideration,
Jo Crawford

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

My apologies, Jo. I nicked it off the internet and there was no attribution to the author. I will replace it this weekend when I have a moment to do that work.

Again, my sincere apologies.