Soft Sponges

“When you’re a baby, you are God-like.” These—the words from a well-known Episcopalian priest. For some, those words are shocking. Maybe edging heresy. But for me, it was like new flavor of double-creamed-ice-cream.

Cool. Refreshing. Thick. Delicious.
Melting inside and making me…happy.

His words made my mind wander. Wander with me for a moment…

A SOUL IS BORN
Moments after leaving the womb a bitty human experiences the world for the first time with a fresh soul. Perhaps those first breaths—signaled by a cry—is when the breath of God enters.

That breath of life is written as “zoe” on old Dead-Sea scrolls. Zoe’s first mention is Gen 2:7 “Then God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (zoe), and the man became a living being.” It’s divine mystery how God sends Zoe into a helpless bitty pink thing. Zoe is something wonderful. It sets us apart from any other animal. It’s the soul. The spiritual element of life.

SOFTNESS AND HARDENING UP
When I think of a baby, I think “soft.” Soft pink skin. The mind is soft, ready to learn. It’s empty of destructive thoughts. Even the skull is soft, and hasn’t closed around the brain. A baby’s demeanor is soft and trusting. The heart is soft, it knows no pain. Even the bones are softer. A baby’s softness (gentleness / openness) of body, mind, and soul seemed to support what that priest said—“…baby…God-like.”

And as children—providing no terrible harms or moral-failures come on us—we stay soft. We stay open. We easily learn. We easily trust. We easily love. The concept of God and truth come easily to a child. What a beautiful time. But along the way we start to harden up. That’s what life does. It makes us hard.

SPONGES
Look at a sponge. The new ones, fresh from the package, are soft and almost moist. Let’s just call them “baby sponges.” They are ready to soak up water. To be used.  But old sponges—like the ones in my cleaning caddy—are rock hard. I can hold them under running water and they barely budge. The water just keeps running off the stiff surface. It’s not until they are placed in warm—or hot water—that they start to soften up. And to speed up the process I squeeze and tug on the sponge to force it to give up its hardened ways.

So, you knew the question was coming, right?

Which sponge are you?

Of course most of us—if we are being honest—are the hardened sponges. We all started off soft, then grew up and bad things happened. People were mean. We were wronged. Illness changed us. Hardships hardened us up. And we thought this hardening was the best way to be. Adults tell us to get “tougher skin.” And it’s 103% true—toughening up creates a barrier—it works. It keeps everything out. Just like the hardened sponge, nothing gets in. If you think about it, hardening-up could be like softness-suffocating. Or strangling the soul. Barely breathing. Barely Zoe. Nearly dead.

Not to quote Dr. Phil, but seriously—How’s that working for you.

I thought I’d done a really good thing by getting thicker skin. But it made me treat others poorly and myself worse. Being a hardened sponge—choking my soul—made me a MESS.

CHANGING (re-softening)
Just like the sponge that has to be run under HOT water and squeezed and pulled-on to change—we are no different. The work of staying fresh and pliable is hard, hard work.

The bulk of my hard work felt like hot water and serious amounts of pressure on all sides. Some parts were so painful, I wanted to stop. While I’m still—and will always be—a work in progress there were a couple of things that got me through.

1) knowing others I respected/admired did it before me – and survived – and became a better person better for it,
2) used hands-on-art and art-journaling to process a TON of emotions (the good, the bad, the ugly),
3) trying to love me and give me grace – to the degree God does (which is more than I’ll ever achieve),
4) and lastly a single bit of scripture that gave me hope:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ez 36:26

Today I continue to use these things to keep me from the ever-present temptation to harden up. (my predisposition is to harden up – so “softening” is part of my life-work).

LIKE A CHILD
Perhaps Jesus knew how we let our souls harden up. After all it is our choice to get hard. And Jesus also knew the softness of a child’s soul. And maybe – JUST MAYBE – He was trying to get us to hear something SO important when saying, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3, Matt 19:14, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17).

And He said this over and over again. Why? Seriously, why? Might there have been this amazing bit of truth there. About soft as opposed to hard souls? Was that Episcopalian priest just restating what Jesus was trying to get us to understand all along? Are we to get soft like babies—the closest living thing to God?

CLOSING IN BEAUTIFUL PROSE
At birth you are supple and soft.
At death you are stiff and hard.
Grass and trees are pliant and tender when living, but they are dry and brittle when dead.
Therefore, the stiff and hard are attendants of death, the supple and soft are attendants of life.
Thus, the hard weapon will be broken.
The mighty tree will invite the axe.
Therefore, the hard and mighty belong below; the yielding and gentle belong above. Tao Te Ching c.76

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4 thoughts on “Soft Sponges

  1. Interesting analogy….I first thought of natural sea sponge…in all different shapes and sizes…individuals….like us…need the ‘living water’ to be useful…

    • When I wrote this, honestly, I thought you might like the last part best. So much said in so few words. I think that’s why I dig prose like that so much. (even if it is from The Tao – we can still apply it to our faith, our walk).

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