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In his autobiography, the early 20th century Greek philosopher and writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, offers this poetic look into our souls.
Three Kinds of Souls
Three Kinds of Prayers
1. I am a bow in your hands, Lord, draw me, lest I rot.
2. Do not overdraw me, Lord, I shall break.
3. Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break!
My brother, Derek, is working as a teacher’s assistant in a first grade class in his son’s school. The other day, one of the first graders came up to him and asked, “Do you take hugs?” And with Derek’s permission, the little boy gave him a little first grade hug. The next day, this same child came up to my brother in the midst of art class, looked him in the eyes, and sweetly whispered, “I can see inside your soul.” This tiny prophet of hugs and whispers brought Derek great delight- a delight that spread to our family when he told us the story. As I listened, I was also in the midst of pondering Kazantzakis’s soul-prayers. I wondered about the insides of our souls, and our souls’ prayers.
It may be that there are three kinds of souls and three kinds of prayers, but Ronald Rolheiser in his book, Sacred Fire, taps into Kazantzakis’s metaphor and divides the life of one soul into three phases, linked to these three prayers. The first part of the disciple’s journey is our essential discipleship. It is the time when we get our lives together and pray that God would draw us in ways that give us life and with arrows that sing and solidly hit their targets.
The second part of our lives as disciples is perhaps the longest part. In our maturing discipleship, we learn how to give our lives away – again and again and again. We generously and actively give our lives away, all the while, praying that God gives us the wisdom and the grace to do so in ways that do not break us. Do not overdraw me, Lord, or I shall break.
Rolheiser calls the final part of discipleship, radical discipleship. Radical discipleship happens when we learn to give our deaths away. This is the time when our concerns about breaking no longer matter, and we surrender to the final movements of the Archer. Rolheiser summarizes Henri Nouwen’s thoughts on this bit of the journey. “Nouwen suggests that at a certain point of our lives, the real question is no longer: What can I still do so that my life makes a contribution? Rather, the question becomes: How can I now live so that my death will be an optimal blessing for my family, my church, and the world” (pp. 18-19)?
Jesus is our pattern in these gifts of life and death.
Jesus gave his life for us in one movement, and he gave his death for us in another movement. In essence, he gave his life for us through his activity, through his generous actions for us; and he gave his death through his passivity, through absorbing in love the helplessness, diminutions, humiliations, and ultimate loneliness of dying.Sacred Fire, p. 19
I am sitting with these phases and these prayers and I offer them as a gift for you to sit with as well. I find it helpful to think about the graciousness and agility of a God who not only creates different kinds of people, but who also asks different things of us and invites us to different things at different points in our lives.
As I sit with these prayers, I also see them as prayers I might pray in a variety of orders all within the same month or day of my life! Ultimately, I trust the wisdom of God – the Archer and the Creator and Seer of my soul – to answer these prayers for me and for all of us in sometimes gentle, sometimes surprising, and sometimes challenging ways that lead to flourishing life – for us, for the church, for the world.