On my dining-area table there reposes a beautiful ceramic bowl, which I call my soul bowl. It’s the second bowl to hold that title. The first one was a beautiful blue bowl, made by potter Kathleen Murphy, which held the title for about four years. I replaced it (it makes an excellent salad bowl) in May 2011 with the current bowl, made by potter Darryl Auten. I did that because the second bowl was a gift from the Pacific Jubilee Program in Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction at the time of my resignation as director, and represented a profound moment in my life. (I had simply bought the blue bowl because it was beautiful.)
Originally I filled the bowl with water every morning, emptying it and refilling it the next morning. I did this to signify the need for spiritual practice as a daily activity. During the time I was doing this, I was often asked what the water in the bowl was for; and it was at one such moment that I gave it the name “soul bowl.” Sometimes I would come home after a few days away and see that the water in the bowl was now lower than when I had left, through evaporation, of course; and even that it had collected dust. This too I took to be an image of the soul when daily practice was neglected. However, on the advice of my respirologist, I stopped doing this last year.
How then to let the soul bowl do its daily work of reminding me of the need for spiritual practice? I hit on the idea of placing in the bottom of the bowl a number of stones which I had collected on various pilgrimages: one from Iona, one from Jerusalem, one from Taizé (a gift from my friend Gosia Poks), and one from Naramata. This last one bears the word “confidence.” At the residency at Naramata in May 2011 which marked the end of my time as director of PJP, all the participants were asked, at the closing ritual, to choose a stone and to write on it a word which expressed their feelings at the end of the residency. I wrote “confidence,” because of the great confidence which I had (and still have!) in my successor as director, Lois Huey-Heck (see on this jubileeassociates/pacific.html). To all of these I have just added a beautiful little heart of olive wood, from Bethlehem, entrusted to me by my friend Nan Maxson, who as of September 1 will be working with the EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel), a World Council of Churches program of solidarity with the Palestinian people. (You can follow her time there at eappi.wordpress.com).
So each morning as I begin a new day, and as part of my morning prayer practice, I simply touch the bowl as a way of connecting with the holy places from which the stones and the heart come, and to reinforce my conviction that for the sake of my own soul, I need to stay faithful to my daily spiritual practice. “New every morning is the love our wakening and uprising prove ….” (John Keble).