The simplicity of soul care

The focus of all soul care is the human soul. At its simplest, the human soul comprises the dust of the material earth and the relational breath of God in a single unity, the person.

Philosopher Michael Polanyi said we know more than we can tell; others have observed an analogy that we say more than we know. This saying perhaps applies nowhere more accurately than when it comes to soul care. When chaplains, pastoral and spiritual care practitioners describe their ministry or role, they might say they provide pastoral care or spiritual care. When pressed to expand upon this, they might explain they provide presence or ‘just’ being there or creating space for another, offering prayer, or accompanying others through grief or crisis. Polanyi was speaking about tacit knowledge; there are things we know and understand well, yet at the same time, we struggle to find the right words to explain and describe them. We also use words like presence, space, and accompaniment, which seem precisely right, yet we might also struggle to ‘show our workings’ to explain how these words capture whole worlds of meaning for us and the people we care for.


There is a lack of words attached to soul care disciplines. There is an inability of religious and spiritual care providers to give a clear account of the interventions they bring to their role. This lack leads to increasingly reductionistic descriptions of soul care, described as non-proselytising, a listening ear, presence, and non-directive counselling. Such lists, as any soul care provider knows, represent minimum competencies rather than the full range and extent of the art of religious and spiritual soul care. One prestigious medical journal described professional chaplains as using “many interventions, such as empathic listening, religious rituals, and prayer.” If chaplains and other soul carers cannot tell their stories and make explicit what is implicit, others will write their stories for them and determine their role.

In contrast to implicit understandings, explicit knowledge is fully revealed or clearly expressed, carefully developed, and avoids vagueness and ambiguity. Explicit knowledge explained meanings and intent and leaves nothing implied. What can be missed is that explicit does not mean complicated, There can be a stripped-down simplicity if we know the central core ideas. Einstein suggested that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler – could this be true too of soul care which lies beneath much of chaplaincy, religious, pastoral and spiritual care?

The focus of all soul care is the human soul. At its simplest, the human soul comprises the dust of the material earth and the relational breath of God in a single unity, the person. The soul (dust and breath) facilitates a person’s relationships within themselves, with others, their environment, history and their creator. The soul is intimately connected with health, well-being, flourishing, meaning and purpose and belonging. How a person engages with reality, ultimate meaning, the transcendentals of truth, beauty and goodness and the darker sides of life, including sin, suffering, death and evil are facilitated by the soul.

Soul care works across explicit beliefs and values, experiences and implicit understandings, different perspectives and most importantly, their relationships and connections.

Soul care is concerned with people within themselves and their spiritual web of relationships. Soul care works across explicit beliefs, deep values, experiences, implicit understandings and different perspectives. Most importantly, the care focuses on their relationships and connections. Following this, soul care’s attention is on possibilities and how people can adjust to changing realities through various interventions and modalities. These work with a person’s vertical and horizontal web of relationships, both in the religious and the everyday spheres. Soul care is not an isolated task but works in community with other services including religious congregations, psychologists and social workers, who attend to mental and emotional illness and social needs, as well as legal and judicial services.

Soul care focuses on the person and the things in their heart and mind. The tasks of soul care perhaps could be most simply described as interventions that help people adjust to new realities employing a range of theories and practices from religious and secular wisdom traditions.




Author: Pastoral Thinking

This web-page is a place where chaplains, pastoral and spiritual carers are encouraged to think both deeply and laterally about the world we live in, and the pastoral care we provide.

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