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A Tribute to Dallas Willard, and a step forward
on April 22, 2014
I’ll be perfectly honest with you: my first thought when I finished John Ortberg‘s upcoming book Soul Keeping was, “Oh, I wish I’d written this book.” The second was, “but only Ortberg could have done it.” With his signature easygoing style and wry self-deprecating humor, John Ortberg has explained why our souls matter, what they actually are, and how we can help keep them–and ourselves–healthy and whole. If you care about the quality of your living and the kind of person you are turning out to be, this book is for you.
But what makes Soul Keeping truly special is Ortberg’s compelling portrait of his friend and mentor, Christian philosopher Dallas Willard, and his extraordinarily practical interpretation of one of Willard’s most challenging concepts: the nature and operation of the human person. If you are new to Willard’s ideas, or didn’t get a chance to know him, or just want to remember the grace and brilliance of the man through Ortberg’s tender and grateful reminiscences, this book is for you.
Following Willard, Ortberg explains the nature of the soul as the part of a person that coordinates and integrates the others–the body, mind, and will. When the soul is healthy and whole, the other parts work together, creating an integrity of the inner and outer lives. When the soul is whole, everything else runs smoothly: one experiences peace in the midst of chaos, ease during challenges, and hope in living. When the soul is damaged, the body, mind, and will are at odds, working against each other. When our souls are damaged, our minds believe an action is good, but our bodies do another: we eat the ice cream knowing the kale is better. Or, we exert the willpower needed to be patient with our kids, but willpower gives out and we cuss out the poor driver who forgets to signal a turn. A healthy soul means integrated living at ease in a difficult world. A damaged soul means a life of conflict, haste, envy, disappointment or discouragement–in other words, what most of us experience too much of the time.
Ortberg then describes the needs of the soul. A soul needs a keeper–someone who is caring for it. A soul needs a center of groundedness and strength. A soul needs a future, and rest, and freedom. A soul needs blessing, and satisfaction, and gratitude. A soul needs to be with God, not in the next life, but in each moment of this one. If any of these needs is unfulfilled, the soul will grab hold of whatever fills the need for the time being, whether it’s good for the health of the soul in the long term or not. In this section, Ortberg explains the needs and how we might fill them in a manner that integrates and heals the soul.
Finally, Ortberg shares a picture of the restored soul, and of the life that enjoys the wholeness and integrity that a healthy soul provides, a life of balance and hope that most of us don’t dare imagine, much less strive for. This is the life of “an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” It is also the inner life that John Ortberg, and many others, saw demonstrated in the outer life of Dallas Willard.
I wish I could have written Soul Keeping, for it speaks to a depth of understanding that comes from years of reflection, honesty, and practice. And as it speaks, it does so with the love that John Ortberg has for God, for people, and for Dallas Willard. May all our voices so resonate with love and understanding, and may our souls be restored.
(Elane O'Rourke is the author of A Dallas Willard Dictionary, and Social Media Wrangler for The Dallas Willard Center.)