Soul Food

If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,

And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,

Sell one and from the dole,

Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul.

No line of poetry has scrolled through my head more than this one, since I first read it early in my college experience. Perhaps, it is the constant hunger pains I have felt for food to feed my soul. Maybe, it is the recognition of the demands of life on my “slender store.” Perchance, it is just my love of hyacinths and roses and honeysuckle, whose sweet perfume momentarily transports me to a more heavenly sphere. Whatever the reason that these lines from a Persian poet constantly dance around in my mind, I know that feeding the soul is as important, if not more so, than feeding the body.

A few weeks ago, I had my boys dig out a Japanese Maple tree I had planted in the courtyard. I purchased this tree with great sacrifice when we were  having a wedding, after falling in love with it at our local nursery. Two burly men delivered it to our house and somehow were able to squeeze it through two doors and place it in the garden. They seemed to know what they were doing, so I left them to plant it. Several years have passed and each year it has struggled more and more.  This year only one branch was still alive and I decided that it needed to go. My boys worked all afternoon trying to remove it, but it was so heavy it would barely budge. Finally, the ground around the trunk was loosened enough that we could step down in the hole and analyze the situation. To my great consternation, I discovered the problem. The cage the root ball was planted in contained a very clay-like soil that had over the past five years, turned into solid cement. The roots were never able to break free of the cage and one by one the main branches of the tree died. We took a hammer and chisel and literally chunk by chunk broke the concrete like soil from the root ball until it could finally be lifted from the hole. Hoping for a miracle, I removed the cage, expanded the roots out and planted it in a shady corner—time will tell if it recovers.

My tree was never able to draw the nutrients it needed from the soil, each year another branch died. When we are not able or simply do not avail ourselves to the soil of life branches die. Even though our body may keep going, the beauty and shade we can offer others are lost. Albert Einstein said, “Art, science and religion are the branches of the same tree.” Along the same thoughts, I believe that art, philosophy, literature, music and science are the soil that we must put our roots deeply into if we are going to flourish. It is interesting that humus another word for soil, shares the same root word as humane, human, humble and humanities meaning of the earth. My tree of life grows as I send roots deep into the soil of those who have left their mark on the humus of humanity throughout the ages. This rich compost of human experience nourishes me and helps me to grow and thrive and experience life more deeply and joyfully.

In today’s busy, complicated world our “slender store” is most often time related. To rephrase, “And if from thy slender store two hours alone to thee are left, Clean they house for one, and with the other, Read a poem to feed the mother.” (So, I need a little more “Cat in the Hat” in my life-you get the point).  Art transcends time and space and the filters of our rational bread-winning world.  Like manna from heaven, it feeds a different hunger in our life. It is at our own peril and the peril of those we shelter when we do not take the time– a moment here or an early morning there, or a Sunday afternoon or a Friday night date to drink deeply. Hyacinths, psalms, sonnets and symphonies—miracle grow for the soul. What “soul food” have you partaken of lately?



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4 Responses to Soul Food

  1. Heather says:

    My psychology class has been a little of that for me this week. It’s nice to think in big words, in terms of electrical impulses and critical theory, a little bit of it anyway.

  2. colleendown says:

    Glad to see that you have found an outlet to recharge yourself, Heather. You will need to post a little of what you learn on “Growing Heather.” Heaven knows that we can use all the psychological insights we can get around here!

  3. Jessica Gregory says:

    Mom this should be the preface for a book. Beautiful poem and analogy. You inspire and we need to get your voice out there.
    I am like anorexic for soul food at the moment and usually I am a pompous pig for it. House hunting is taking too much time. Today I will take a break and buy a hyacinth.
    Thanks for all these inspiring posts. Please keep them coming.

  4. colleendown says:

    Hardly anorexic Jessica–you are the one that has taught me about mindful!

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