Do you sometimes feel you lack something you feel you need? It may be a more satisfying job, bigger house for a growing family, or a better car. However, you may also feel you lack something less definable, something you can’t easily put your finger on but which may be an answer to your troubles: perhaps something which could provide comfort when you are disappointed, lift your spirits when you feel down, and engender a positive frame of mind when everything seems negative. Something we might call food for the soul.
My need for food for the soul
From time to time I feel a sense of inadequacy in myself, in my own ability to get moving again when I find myself static, or to find solutions to the ordinary lesser and sometimes bigger problems of life that confront the average person. These times I’m obliged to have to admit to myself I know so little and understand less. I thought things were going along fine and now I find I can’t always cope. This state of mind can get a bit depressing. There is always something round the corner that seems to set me back — it is as if I am being taught a lesson. If you know what I mean, you may also feel humbled by life and, when you are frustrated, tired or feeling uninspired, that you too need something extra to restore your inner life.
One way of looking at this is in terms of spiritual nourishment. Just as the body needs nourishing food and drink to sustain its life, so do we not need food for the soul to sustain our inner life?
A scientific perspective is that without natural nourishment we grow weak and feeble, prone to disease, lack energy and eventually wither and die. Recommended is a balanced diet that covers all the nutrients the body requires. From a spiritual perspective without inner nourishment we become “overwhelmed with duties, engagements and activities” ( H. T. Hamblin). For spiritual food sustains and revitalises our spiritual life.
So what is food for the soul?
I would suggest food for the soul is the insights and knowledge we can gain about what is good and true in life: such spiritual food meets our hunger to find out and value what is deeply true about life e.g. about principled ideas that connect with useful action. The following might be said to be examples of this: noticing the qualities in other people around us, the beauty in nature and the potential that various situations hold for something good to happen.
Is this higher knowledge not able to inspire and motivate us? To raise our minds above the petty aspects of the mundane side of things? To act as food for the soul? Just as we need a balanced physical diet, so we also need a balanced spiritual one. Not just intellectual ideas, but also insights into the needs of other people, an awareness of the various relevant views around a social issue, practical knowledge concerning how to support people in need of help, an intuition about the way to tackle interpersonal difficulty, a perception about what is good about what is going on around.
In other words I am suggesting the idea that if we see what is good and true then this can nourish our inner life. It gives us the chance to value what is important and if we do this then we acquire good sense and good intentions, and find meaningful principles, in which we can develop hope and trust, feel encouragement and comfort when things go wrong, and experience inspiration.
The words of Christ promise that spiritual nourishment will be provided as long as we have an active longing for spiritual food. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt 5:6)
Food for the soul and angel bodies
The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg claimed to have mystical visions of heavenly life. He said that after young children have died they are brought up on the fringes of heaven and have a spirit body which corresponds to their character. This spirit body is said to grow in stature so as to eventually to take on the appearance of an adult heavenly person. The growth isn’t due to material food but rather is due to the food for the soul they are given which nourishes their understanding of what is true and wise discernment of what is good.
I would say valuing such insights and acting on them is the heavenly state of happiness. Something to which we can all aspire.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems