Recent Reading: Anatomy of the Soul

I’m assigning this as reading for everyone

January 4, 2021

2020 was a difficult year…that’s a common, and usually undisputed, refrain. I won’t dispute it either, but I think 2020 was as much of a revelation of our ills as it is the cause of it. Culturally, we’ve experiencing growing isolation, anxiety and discord for a few years. The pressure of 2020 pushed those to the surface, alongside all the extra sewage 2020 brought.

More than ever, there is a need for all of us, as individuals, to be intentional about our own health. Physical health. Mental health. Relational health. Emotional health. And yes, spiritual health too, though I’d argue that’s a composite of all the others.

I will acknowledge (with some hesitation!) that reading a book isn’t alway the answer for what challenges us. But since this a time where we need to be intentional about our health — and since we all might have more time for reading a book right now — I’d like assign everyone to read Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson.

Thompson merges neuroscience — the science of our brains — with the work of emotional and spiritual health and formation. For me, it’s a sweet spot between my nerdy side (the neuroscience bits) and my pastor side (the spiritual formation bits). But there is plenty of value in it for non-nerdy non-pastor people, you know…normal people.

Published 10 years ago, I only recently discovered it as it was assigned as part of my spiritual direction cohort. Here are some of the reflections I captured for my cohort after reading it:

  • The chapter on how we form, and hold memory, feels very significant to me. The stories we remember, and the way we tell them, reveals everything about how we experience God, how we see our selves, and how we engage relationally. It helps me to see spiritual direction as primary a practice of encouraging the telling of stories, and encouraging throughtful reflection of those stories. It reminds me of Dan Allender’s structure of seeing faith as looking backward at how we have seen God’s faithful presence, hope as turning that faith into the future, and love as how we live in the present.
  • I found the idea that there are specific practices that help reshape the connections in the brain, like centering prayer, aerobic activity, or learning new things like a foreign language or musical instrument. While sitting together for an hour can be meaningful sacred time, I find it helpful from my own direction to have suggestions of practices to focus on, and likewise find it helpful that I might suggest some of these practices that extend beyond traditional spiritual disciples.
  • On a personal level, this may be the most thought provoking and engaging book I’ve read in several years. I think my copy weighs twice as much as it did new from all the ink I left with underlines on page after page. This book was in a sweet spot for me, combining the nerdy brain science with the hope of growth and formation for myself and others no matter what our story might be. Much of the content of the book covered ground that was somewhat familiar to me, but pulled the pieces together and deepened understandings in a significant way.
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