Soul Work

Mary TeckYear of the Pilgrim


By Charlotte Ostermann

You’ve got work to do: roles, duties, tasks aplenty. If I suggest more work, your first thought is probably, “No time!” and your next, “No energy!” Yet, I do suggest you take on more: the work of cultivating freedom. Interior freedom lightens all the other loads you carry. Whatever realities you face can become doorways to freedom if you perceive them as means to your own formation. Your power to bear tension of all kinds is enhanced through the practice of placing your interest into the people, world, works, and words around you, and through the practice of allowing your heart to be deeply affected by it all.

Harness intellectual and emotional power to increase your capacity for reality, for Christ. Mind and heart are not superfluous – to be ignored until after the chores are done – but are the very muscles to engage more fully to lift the various ‘loads’ of life. It may frustrate you to start exercising a rusty brain, and it may hurt to allow your heart to respond more fully, but without these powers, you can become just a body going through the motions of life, instead of wielding yourself in true freedom.

Whether you are learning Spanish with your kids, completing an online Masters, digging into the works of Shakespeare, or the physics of sound, reading literature for a Well-Read Mom discussion, or trying to get up to speed on a political issue, you are building intellectual capacity. If you’re facing your own deep woundedness, empathizing with friends over coffee, letting the Spirit move you to show compassion, or weeping with a hurt child, your heart’s capacity is growing. You are becoming a more capacious and responsive vessel for the presence of Christ.

Intellectual penetration helps you to see through the surfaces of reality to the glory beyond. Emotional facility helps reality penetrate through your surfaces to awaken the creative Word within you. Time collapses in on those whose minds narrow, whose hearts harden. It opens wide for those who are capax omnia (capable of receiving everything) and who are easily moved by the still, small voice of God. But, the active mind and the responsive heart still need more energy than you have. What to do?

Harness the power of your desires and dreams to find energy for action and forward movement. Too often, we assume our own being must be silenced, like a child who is chafing against her duties. “Put up and shut up” are the corollaries of an “offer it up” that can violate you. In squelching the Self – perhaps in fear of becoming selfish – we shut off a major power source. Delight is a wellspring of hopeful, joyous, creative energy. Natural delight leads to delight in the Lord.

Perhaps you have no energy for the daily grind because you have not discovered what truly delights your senses and sensibilities. What connects you with your dreams and corresponds to your desires? To be deeply present to your own being – the yearnings and longings at the core of your own personhood – is to reconnect your spiritual ideals with the concreate realities of daily life, so that the energy of hope starts flowing. The cultivation of hope strengthens you against the temptations to despair, to acedia, to listless impotence. To love yourself in this way is to cultivate a capacity for loving other people.

To care not only for what is real, true, good and beautiful, but also for what is real, true, good, and beautiful in YOU is to possess and more fully inhabit your own being. You can’t freely give what you don’t fully have. To own your desires and dreams gives you the power to give them to God. As you learn to entrust them to Him instead of denying them, you grow better able to discern when you are acting in true freedom. The soul with no capacity for the Self has little capacity for others. Did you think it would be selfish to consider your own desires? It might be easier to fit into a one-size-fits-all holy suit than to measure, make, and adjust a custom tailored one, but who said work was easy?

I know you’re tired and have little time, but the work of cultivating your freedom is done through all your other work and makes it all much easier to bear. As you expand your interior dimension – not just spiritual but intellectual and emotion as well – you’ll find that what seemed to interfere is actually the means of your becoming. The work only you can accomplish is to be YOU and to be free.

In Souls at Rest, I show why the Eucharistic sabbath is the key to a holy leisure that results in true freedom. In Souls at Work, I offer practice in the cultivation of the interior capacity for freedom. In Souls at Play, I’ll look at the impact of well-rested, free, creative human persons on culture and the new evangelization.

Charlotte Ostermann writes and speaks about holy leisure, interior freedom, poetic education, and creative cultural engagement. Find her at

This piece was originally published in the ‘Year of the Pilgrim’ Journal.