Tall trees that make a canopy overhead. A carpet of pine straw. Or, the smell of leaves in the fall that are slowly turning back into humus and soil. The smell, the sound, the sight of running water. A blue sky overhead. Maybe a few white clouds. Ferns growing in clusters through the woods. Ancient stones that crop up out of the ground. From a distance, the gentle rolling mountainscapes that we call the Appalachians.
These all make up the view of the “land of my soul.” Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach’s original version of “Return Again” says “return to the land of your soul.” Our Unitarian Universalist hymn version of his song reads “return to the home of your soul.” Both have some significance. I want to ponder the original today.
The call to return to the land of one’s soul ties soul to the Earth in ways that will vary for each of us. When you think of the land of your soul, the land to which your soul is attached, the land that–should you be able to travel there instantly–would provide nourishment and strength to your soul, what landscapes begin to form in your mind? Allow yourself a moment to go there. Describe for yourself this land of your soul.
The elements of landscape that I describe above are all from the place in north Alabama where I grew up. Sadly, the actual places that come to my heart’s memory, once a part of the deep woods in an area that belongs to the foothills of the Appalachian chain were scraped away long ago to build a subdivision. I cannot literally go back to that land of my soul. I do often in memory, and I do often find elements of that landscape in other places on the earth. I also find other places on this planet that feel like the land of my soul.
So, what does that mean? The land of my soul includes places on this planet that call my mind and my body into one place. These places on earth re-orchestrate my thoughts and my bodily sensations around something that has always been there and which seems–when I pay attention–to always be in conversation with the land, the sky, the movements of water. This “something” is at work when I am my most creative. This something allows me to be still and listen deeply. This something rises up in me when I am my most compassionate. This something seems to be at work when I am most vigilant in matters of justice. I think of that something as my soul.
What is the land of your soul? How do the landscapes that come to mind speak, sing and move in you? As you ponder those possibilities, you might find this version of Return Again helpful. It contains landscapes that someone has thought of in this regard as well.