The body is everything about you that exists in the physical world, and is limited to the physical world. This includes your anatomy, stuff, job, and status.
The spirit is the part of you that has its reality in the realm of the eternal. We tend not to know our spirits all that well. We can even shut off contact with the spirit.
The soul is the part of you that could do this shutting off. The soul is the decision-making part of you, the part that has your opinions and experiences, the part that includes your will, plans, expectations, and feelings. The soul can cling entirely to what’s going on in the outer world, the sphere of the body. Or, the soul can be somewhat broken of this. Through being broken, it can become the opening and the conduit by which the spirit can reach the body, by which the kingdom of God can advance, by which the eternal can flow out into the physical.
Lately, I have been thinking about whether I can give daily care and attention—a workout, if you will—to each of these parts of who I am. A work of the body involves building, lifting, running, repairing. A work of the soul involves studying, choosing, planning, laughing. The spirit is the puzzle here. What is an exercise of the spirit?
It should be something that is not primarily a work of the body. It should be something that is not primarily a work of the soul. The answer that increasingly appeals to me is that a work of the spirit is prayer.
But not prayer the way I have often practiced it. That is, not an experience filled entirely with my own imploring and asking. An odd change I’ve recently made is to set a timer before I settle in to pray, under the premise that God knows what I need to ask, hear, or say better than I do. The timer announces when I am finished with praying, thereby taking this decision away from my soul. Thus, I sometimes find that I outlast my busy thoughts. A renewed hope, a clarity of purpose, or a surprising possibility might come to my mind in the last minute before the timer goes off. Finding a state apart from my ego-bound desires in this way is an exercise some would describe as “meditation,” and I don’t mind that label.
Jesus often went to solitary places to pray, says Mark 1:35. What did he do during these times, and what was this praying like? We do not know, because no one was there to observe. However, because he could pray all through the night, as he did in Luke 6:12, it is hard to imagine that he was appealing, imploring, or calling out in intercession during all of this time.
What is an exercise of the spirit? Perhaps this is the very exertion that it is not for me to choose or make. Perhaps one answer to this question is found in letting the body be still, letting the soul be still, and confessing with my patience that I believe that the Spirit might move.