The title “Soul Breaks” could suggest many subjects, but I’m using it in the sense of a break time for spiritual nourishment, for refreshment—like “coffee break” or “lunch break.” Breaks are essential to pace us in the midst of life’s workload and responsibilities. How do we make the most of our “breaks”?
It may help to begin with the importance of spending a significant amount of time with the Lord each day for Bible reading, prayer and seeking God’s leading for the day. People debate about the best time for a “quiet time” with the Lord. Most opt for morning, based on Jesus’ practice described in Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (NIV). Others say they spend time with God in the evening. I’ve always based my choice on the observation that the best time for a musician to tune her instrument is before the performance, rather than after it.
This discussion, however, too often misses our need for spiritual nourishment throughout the day. “Soul breaks” can be opportunities for spiritual reading. Spiritual reading is reading for the heart. Our focus is not on assimilating content, but on using the reading to deepen our awareness of God and of the many-faceted spiritual dynamics at work in our lives.
The best comparison is the difference between reading the newspaper and reading a love letter.
The newspaper is given a quick scan and discarded. A brief love note, however, is read over and over again, not for the content, but for the sense of presence and emotional connection it inspires.
When we read in this way, we savor the message, prayerfully letting the words soak into our hearts and minds. The goal of the reading is to put us in touch with the Lord. The classic expression of this discipline comes from Baron Friedrich von Hügel (1852-1925), an Austrian Catholic layman who served as a spiritual director to many.
“That daily quarter of an hour, for now forty years or more, I am sure has been one of the greatest sustenances and sources of calm for my life. Of course, such ‘reading’ is hardly reading in the ordinary sense of the word at all. As well could you call the letting a very slowly dissolving lozenge melt imperceptibly in your mouth ‘eating’. Such reading is, of course, meant as directly as possible to feed the heart, to fortify the will–to put these into contact with God–thus, by the book, to get away from the book to the realities it suggests…” Baron Friedrich von Hügel, cited in John Baillie, A Diary of Readings (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1955), Day 1.
The goal is not quantity, nor is it the intellectual mastery of content. Spiritual reading could also be compared to taking a vitamin tablet. The size of the tablet is small compared to a normal meal, yet it gives essential nutrients to our bodies. So with spiritual reading. A small portion can help fortify the soul for the day.
How do you practice spiritual reading? Read a little (usually from a classic devotional book like Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest or a book on spiritual growth) then stop when you come to one thought that stirs your spirit. It “jumps out at you.” That is a morsel of grace for you to savor. That’s the “lozenge” von Hügel mentions. Sit still and meditate on it. Journal it. Write the phrase or sentence at the top of a fresh page of paper then write your heart-response to it. You may turn it into a prayer. Then, return to it at the end of the day, reflecting on what it meant.
I could list dozens and dozens of books (and have in my book, SoulShaping, page 272), but I’ll leave that to your discovery. And, by the way, I hope this blog provides a Soul Break for you.