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Caring for the Soul of the World

Today's post is from David Paul, co-author (with Craig Rennebohm) of Souls in the Hands of a Tender God.  Paul is a Seattle-based writer and editorial consultant. He is a former political scientist who taught at Princeton and the University of Washington, and he has authored or co-authored six books and many articles ranging from politics and history to film criticism, the Internet, and poetry translations.

Book Cover for Souls in the Hands of a Tender God links to Beacon Press page for book A Canadian reader named Barbara wrote about our book, Souls in the Hands of a Tender God, that her favorite sentence in it is, "We begin caring for the soul of the world by caring for the souls of our neighbors, for each life that touches ours."

Caring for the Soul of the World. It's actually the title of our tenth chapter, and now that I think about it, it may strike some as pretentious—who are we to take care of the soul of the world? Or it may seem impossible, overwhelming; how can you and I bear the weight of everybody? A counter at the Web site tells us that the earth's population is approaching 7 billion people. What an enormous responsibility, to care for all those souls!

The context of the sentence is an experience Chaplain Craig Rennebohm had eight years ago when he was invited to Bosnia-Hercegovina, a small country then trying to recover from the devastating war of 1992–1995. Craig's mission was to participate in discussions among local officials and healthcare workers whose task it was to rebuild the country's system of community mental health centers. Craig met with representatives of ethnic groups that had fought each other bitterly—Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, and Croats—and were now struggling to pick up the broken pieces of their community. What had been a functioning mental healthcare system was in shambles.

At one of the meetings, a Muslim nurse gave voice to the most urgent decision human beings can confront: "We can hold in our hands healing or guns. I choose healing."

And it was a Serbian doctor who gave us the title of our chapter when he said to Craig, "You and I must do more than pick up the pieces. We must work to stop the violence. … We must learn together how to care for souls, and for the soul of the world."

How do we do this?

The environmental movement gave birth to the slogan "Think globally, act locally." What's true for the natural environment is also true for the human environment: what we do in our little part of the world, multiplied by 7 billion people, can become a transformative force. If we undertake small acts of personal kindness and compassion in our own neighborhood and community, and if our neighbors do likewise, and if our neighborly acts are replicated throughout the village or city, across the country, and beyond in the wider world, we then are acting at the crucial point of a global movement of kindness and compassion. By caring for the soul next door, the soul who sleeps in an alleyway, the soul who stands beside a freeway exit ramp with a sign, we are caring for the soul of the world.