Thursday, October 7, 2010

Indulging the Nephesh

A couple of months ago I decided that I wanted to resume the practice of commuting by bicycle. I enjoy getting the exercise and foregoing the stress of morning traffic. The ride to campus is really nice because it is mostly downhill and covers some of the prettiest parts of Austin. I get to class feeling energized and connected with the world around me. The ride back to my apartment (obviously) covers the same route, but in a much less pleasant uphill battle.

Before the recent considerable reduction in temperature, this ride was very taxing. I arrived home with an empty camelbak whose contents appeared to have been directly transferred to the rest of my body. It would take quite a while for me to stop sweating and feel normal again. After working so hard, my flesh needed nourishment. I drank a lot of water and ate whatever I could find.

It seems that our bodies have a way of directing our desires to what it needs. Hormones in the endocrine system seem to communicate with our brains in influencing what we consume. Human needs for touch and interaction may work in similar ways. The opposite also seems to occur, in which our psychological state may hinder us from desiring that which is essential. The former process is usually healthier than the latter. Scientists have called these processes “drives.”

In the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5), Moses told the Israelites to love God with all of their “nephesh,” which is translated in English as “Soul.” According to what I have read, the word “Soul” does not quite seem to cover the true meaning of Nephesh. Some say it means “life” or “flesh,” others say it means “throat.” Looking at all of these definitions, it seems to me that nephesh is the seat of our physical and spiritual drives.

Therefore, I think God is saying that we also have an internal drive that seeks to know him. The human body is not satisfied without its creator (see Psalm 63). The incredibly large percentage of Americans (92% according to a 2007 study done by Pew Research) who believe in God testifies to this truth.

I wonder how often we let our other drives snuff out our drive for God. I think our collective nephesh is like a displaced pine tree in West Texas, or a sweaty bicycle rider, longing for nourishment. When will we give in and indulge that for which we were designed? How long can we run from our own nephesh? 

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