Chaplain’s thought for the week
Revd Tom considers the importance of tending to the inner self
I would like to build upon my reflection from last week about pilgrimage and solitude by considering why nurturing the ‘inner life’ is so valuable. When you make a pilgrimage it’s an outward physical journey with an inner spiritual purpose. I think that in today’s world we often focus too much on the outward and physical, whilst forgetting to tend the inner life.
Across the United Kingdom, for example, gym membership is very high – many people are deeply concerned to develop their physical bodies; talk about health and fitness is very popular. That’s all well and good, but I’m not sure that in our culture we’re quite so concerned about tending and developing the inner self. Everyone wants to develop the perfect body, but we’re less concerned about the perfect soul, as it were.
The 16th Century mystic St. Teresa of Avila identified this problem hundreds of years ago:
‘As to what good qualities there may be in our souls… those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul’s beauty. All our interest is centred in the rough setting of the diamond, in the outer wall of the castle – that is to say, in these bodies of ours.’
In a school we must take care that we focus on the inner as well as the outer life. It is absolutely right that we should celebrate successes in examinations, sport, art, music, drama, and all manner of extra-curricular achievements, but we mustn’t neglect our inner selves. I’m thinking about what kind of person we are, about our character. Do the virtues of loving kindness, joy and peace flow from within us?
In Jesus’ day he got into trouble with the religious authorities because he didn’t seem to be observing the strict dietary laws of his religion. He said this to his contemporaries: ‘There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:… wickedness, deceit, envy, slander, pride… All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
Tending the inner life is what builds our character. St. Paul wrote this:
‘... clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’