Connected upward, yet pulled downward.
That is the battle within your soul.
Oddly, it can be like the Nights of Cabiria.
© SoulBreaths.com. All rights reserved.
[Combat Zone article originally created 2009, then updated January 2015 and July 2016.]
Italians might wish a newborn “benvenuti alla luce”—welcome to the light—but whenever I see a baby, one of my first thoughts is “Welcome to the battlefield.”
The dynamics have begun. Within that little body lies a great commission . . . its soul’s journey, purpose, identity. It will be anything but easy. The soul’s three structural components—neshama (highest part of soul attached to G-d), ruach (human spirit), nefesh (lowest part of soul tied to this world)—will engage in a no-holds-barred tug of war. An inner battle that transects both the spiritual and physical dimensions. More on the specifics of those soul components shortly.
For now, just know it’s about the wrestling. Tugging this way and that. The world-bound self challenging His righteousness. The earthly desire racing to overtake holiness. The outer chaos impeaching inner silence.
I know the battle well. Too well. It’s been the substance of the war within my soul matrix for years. Maybe for you too. It is, after all, the stuff within all of us who reside on this side of heaven.
Everyone has a secret agony . . . a wish to be fulfilled.
—Nights of Cabiria, Fellini film
WHAT’S WARRING WITHIN: YOUR SOUL MATRIX
Italian filmmaker/director Federico Fellini stumbled on the soul battle with his 1958 Nights of Cabiria (Le Notti di Cabiria). Hauntingly compelling, a gritty window into the human condition.
Protagonist Cabiria is a
who wants to break loose of herself.
Or more accurately, of the lifestyle entrapping her. She’s a lady of the night, but her true self—her soul’s identity—longs to be freed. Her plight could just as easily be yours, mine, or anyone else’s on the planet. After all, there are trenches and stench holes even in the finest high places and people.
Compared to her cohorts, there’s something distinctly different about Cabiria. They’re contently oblivious to their boxed-in existence. Not her. She’s clothed in resilience. Dares to hope. Dares to find ways to be free from the civil war within and around her.
Swept along the Roman religious processional—priests, candle-carrying altar boys in garb, followed by suit-clad men and penitent, scarf-covered women drudging behind on their knees—Cabiria cries out for a miracle in her default, Roman Catholic style.
But the next day, she’s sitting with a few others on the processional grounds. Scattered debris surrounds her, the aftermath of the previous evening’s religious fervor. A musician is strumming his guitar. Teens are playing ball. Her friends are eating, drinking, dancing. The reality crashes in on her.
We haven’t changed. Nobody’s changed.
We’re all the same as before, just like the cripple.
—Nights of Cabiria, Fellini film
The religious spirit and its rote rituals couldn’t conjure up deliverance. The cripple wasn’t healed. Her friends returned to their worldly ways. The soul matrix hadn’t budged. But would G-d later step in and spark a different type of miracle?
Mise-en-Scène. Let’s look at the real elements in her story. And yours and mine. The soul matrix—with its three distinct, yet interwoven parts (neshama, ruach, nefesh), whose key to existence down here is a holy balance. What often happens is anything but. Let’s take a look through a rabbinic window that reveals more, based on the Hebrew in G-d’s Word:
Neshama [neh-shah-mah]—breath/breath of life, nishmat chayim [נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים], that G-d breathed into Adam per Genesis 2:7—higher/holy part of the soul, attached to G-d, bringing His light and voice through, impassioned to pull your entire soul upward to live a holy life in and toward Him, reflecting G-d’s presence; every human (Jew or Gentile) has a neshama, but animals don’t.
The neshama holds the identity of what He made you to be in Him vs. the illusion that whispers to you from the world and other sources. The neshama funnels G-d’s light and truth into the soul matrix.
We can all pretend to be cynical and scheming . . .
but when we’re faced with purity and innocence,
the cynical mask drops off and all that is best in us awakens.
—Nights of Cabiria, Fellini film
Ruach [roo-akh]—wind per Genesis 8:1—human spirit, rises/descends, births emotions, and is attached to and sandwiched between the neshama (higher soul part) and nefesh (lower soul part); humanity and animals have a ruach.
The ruach is like a transmitter, assigned to work in tandem with the neshama to fan the flame of love for G-d and pull the nefesh and entire soul matrix up into G-d’s will and ways—moving within His flow for a Shechinah (שכינה, divine presence dwelling within) soul walk.
Nefesh [neh-fesh]—living being, but from Hebrew root nafash meaning to rest per Exodus 31:17—lowest part of the soul, life force (Leviticus 17:11), includes the physical body, tethered to the physical world, compelled by the things of this world, self-focused, physical desires, fear; attached to ruach; humans and animals have a nefesh.
There’s no real power or strength apart from G-d. He is your soul’s Source—but that doesn’t stop the object-driven nefesh. It sets out to control and manipulate its physical surroundings in an attempt to “create a sense of self-reliance and security” as Rabbi Pinchas Winston describes in a teaching on parshah Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1–38:20).
And that creates an atmosphere that is anything but rest—as its Hebrew root implies. It’s only on Shabbat when the nefesh is forced to rest (per the commandment) vs. work and do and attempt to overpower. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato taught the chain of these soul elements to G-d were like a glassblower’s pipe . . .
Like a glassblower, G-d’s action of exhaling a soul
is like the breath/neshama leaving His lips,
traveling as wind/ruach,
coming to rest/nefesh in the vessel.
The good news: When the light of G-d flows unhindered through the neshama, ruach, and nefesh, the body acts in a way that emanates His ways, becoming a menorah, a witness of His light to the world.
The challenging news: Sin can, in time, erode the connection between the neshama and ruach, nearly dissolving it. Meanwhile, the ruach is overrun by the sin, shuts down, leaving the rogue nefesh at the helm. And that causes harm to your entire soul matrix . . . and walk with G-d.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
There are more characters in your story to contend with—many opponents on many battlefronts that need to be fought, spiritually and physically:
(1) the world—earthly, mundane, carnal, temporal pursuits
(2) your DNA
(4) relationships—family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, congregant members, etc.
(5) life encounters/experiences
(6) your since-the-beginning-of-time adversary, satan
And let’s not forget free will . . . complete with your two-sided inclinations: yetzer tov (יֵצֶר טוב), a drive toward doing/choosing things that are good, and yetzer hara (יֵצֶר הַרַע), a drive toward doing/choosing not-so-good things.
So it doesn’t take much to stir up a war—instead of
doing what the soul matrix should be doing . . .
stirring up the heart to love Him.
Hit pause—reminder of soul parts.
Click popup: Recap soul matrix
Neshama (neh-shah-mah)—breath/breath of life. Highest part of these three soul-matrix components, attached to G-d, drawn to His holiness.
Ruach (roo-akh)—human spirit, rises/descends as the wind. Seat of emotions, a transmitter, sandwiched between neshama and nefesh (lowest part of soul).
Nefesh (neh-fesh)—living being, seat of appetite/craving, lowest part of the soul, includes the body. Tethered to the physical world/natural realm.
Only humans have a neshama. But every living being—human and animal—has the ruach and nefesh soul-matrix parts. See Job 12:10; Genesis 1:20-21, 24; Ecclesiastes 3:21; Proverbs 12:10; Isaiah 56:11.
Like hot butter dripping off roasted corn, the soul journey can turn into one major slippery slope. A little compromise here. An ignoring of G-d there. Toying with this. Hanging around that. In time, the nefesh becomes so strong in its earthbound desires that even doctrines of demons—guised as light, acceptable social mores at odds with G-d’s standards—can seep into the soul and cause the dam to cave in.
The heart turns cold.
The ruach languishes.
The neshama barely flickers.
The soul matrix is out of its intended balance.
You’re feeling like a drifting domus lost at sea,
without identity, purpose, direction.
Isaiah 7:9b bottom lines it:
Without firm faith,
you’re not firmly established—you won’t stand at all.
G-d’s not asking you to stand on ceremony, get caught up in religious acts, or drown your soul in legalism. G-d wants your love.
In Joel 2:13, G-d gives a clear image . . .
Tear your hearts, not your garments.
Return to the Lord for He is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
That’s why it’s so critical to learn the rules of engagement for this soul battle down here. Isaiah 8: 11-14 gives some basic guidelines. In a nutshell . . .
Don’t fear what people fear or
be awed by what awes them.
Let G-d be the object of your awe . . . consecrate Him.
He alone is to be your sanctuary.
FAITH vs. TRUST
AH, THAT’S THE THING.
Hebraically, faith—emunah (eh-moo-nah, אֱמוּנָה)—means a knowing or understanding of who G-d is. He’s great, awesome, creator, father, and has His hand in the details of the world.
Trust—bitachon (bee-tah-khon, בטחון) with the root batach—means trust, leaning on, resting on. So you might know that G-d is who He says He is . . . but bitachon means you put that emunah (faith) into action. You can do that when, as Rabbi B. Shafier (The Schmuz.com) says, you know He’s with you, steeped in the details of your life, knowing what is good and right for you . . . and when you realize you really don’t know what is best for you, you can’t play G-d, and when you understand that you ultimately can’t control your destiny.
By the way, that last part is true no matter how much ads, commercials, or self-help gurus say otherwise.
Imagine you’re standing at the Red Sea. Water before you—Egyptian army closing up the rear. You can know (emunah/faith) and believe that G-d is mighty. You’ve seen His hand do great works before. You’ve heard stories and testimonies about His might from your friends.
But at that no-answer-in-sight moment,
will you have the bitachon/trust
to put your faith into real action . . .
will you step into the water
and know He’ll part the way?
It’s like G-d is saying to you and me in our 21st century lives: Get out of the boat . . . not to waltz on the shore, but to activate your bitachon/trust . . . and walk on the water with me.
When you do, then you can consecrate G-d, as Isaiah 8:11-14 commands.
Set Him apart from all else for you.
Set Him apart from all else for your soul.
Set Him apart from all else for your life.
Set Him apart from all else for your circumstances.
Set Him apart from all else and make Him your sanctuary.
Know (emunah) He is your sanctuary—but bitachon, actively live and move as if He is your sanctuary. Your refuge. Your protection. Your provision. Your home. Because He is.
You are soul journeying to ha makom (ha-mah-kome, the place)—only to discover that the place is G-d Himself. He is ha makom, the destination, the journey, the place of holiness.
JUST ASK SOLOMON
I’m so grateful for Solomon’s story, his humanity, and G-d’s grace. It’s always good to be reminded no one is perfect—we all get it wrong (sometimes really, really wrong) along the way of our soul journey.
Solomon had two visitations from the L-rd, was King David’s son and heir to the messianic line, the one chosen to build the Jewish nation’s temple, and was blessed with wealth and wisdom beyond measure.
And yet. Stuff happened outwardly that impacted his inner man. Stuff happened to his inner man that propelled his outward actions. He fudged here and there. He stepped outside of G-d’s directives. In time, futility and vanity flooded his soul.
Long, long before Solomon would enter the biblical log, Adonai gave a warning through Moses that a king shouldn’t take many wives because his heart would turn astray (Deuteronomy/Devarim 17:17).
But Solomon was a lover. I Kings/Melachim 11: 1-8 . . .
King Solomon (Shlomo) loved many foreign women besides the daughter of Pharaoh. There were women from the Mo’avi, ‘Amoni, Edomi, Tzidoni, and Hitti nations about which Adonai had said to the people of Isra’el,“You are not to go among them or they among you because they will turn your hearts away toward their gods.” But Solomon was deeply attached to them by his love.
He had 700 wives, all princesses, and 300 concubines; and his wives turned his heart away. For when Solomon became old, his wives turned his heart away toward other gods; so that he was not wholehearted with Adonai his God as David his father had been . . .
He built high places to the gods of his wives, worshiping their pagan gods vs. worshiping the only True G-d.
A fissured soul.
Light was blacked out and darkness crept in.
A total eclipse . . . of the neshama.
His soul became . . .
dislodged from G-d’s intent, purpose, ways.
DARKENING OF THE SOUL
Judaically, the nefesh— the life force that includes the body—is holy. It’s the vehicle for the soul to perform and journey out its destiny and refinement. So it only makes sense that the nefesh should be guarded.
But the tension within the soul matrix makes that difficult. The inner war rages and there can be a detachment of the nefesh from the ruach . . . and even the ruach from the neshama, which is attached to G-d.
When that happens, the soul matrix is polluted, darkened. G-d’s light is shut out. It’s the stuff of a reprobate soul mind—when the neshama is silenced and the nefesh is commandeering instead of following.
To illustrate the consequences of that, let’s take a brief walk across that Judaic-Messianic Judaic-Christian bridge to look at an interesting few verses written by Saul Paulus—a Jew and Pharisee turned Messianic, who later was known as Paul. The verses are from his admonishing letter to Gentile believers in Jesus (Yeshua). The boldfaced text below flushes out what happens when the nefesh goes rogue. [Taken from the New Testament/B’rit Chadashah, Ephesians 4: 17-18.]
This I say, therefore, and testify in the L-rd, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk . . .
in the futility of their mind [emptiness, purposelessness, meaningless, devoid of G-d’s ways/commands/truth]
having their understanding darkened [the soul matrix is out of alignment with G-d and becomes flooded with more darkness instead of His Light—beyond its initial futility of thinking/being—due to chain sinning from rebelling against His ways and having continual self-absorption]
being alienated from the life of God [result of the neshama being closed off and the soul matrix on disconnect status]
because of the ignorance that is in them [no truth from G-d’s Torah or His ways]
because of the blindness of their heart [stubbornness, callousness, hardness of heart]
Walking away from G-d in one form or another means the neshama is no longer free to breathe forth the soul’s true identity, its designed purpose.
CABIRIA’S SOUL MOMENT
Okay, so let’s get back to Cabiria. The invisible, iron bars of Cabiria’s physical slave market have pierced through her soul matrix, creating a spiritual prison. She dreams of freedom, but is incarcerated emotionally and spiritually wherever she goes.
The Catholic madonna and religious exercises left her chained, her soul in bondage. But were her genuine cries heard by the One who really can deliver?
Toward the end of the movie, she’s manipulated and discarded yet again, left with mutilated expectations.
Her soul hits ground zero. Physically, she collapses on an elevated drop-off, deep waters below. All a deft portrait of her soul-life journey.
But then . . . a stirring. Emptied, teary-eyed, she pulls herself up and starts to walk through the wooded area. Children and young people come out and walk with her, singing, playing music, happy, filled with life.
A mascara-stained tear rests under one eye—and slowly her visage morphs. She looks around her and sees new life bursting from the young people and music. It’s then that she turns to gaze into the camera for a few seconds.
She’s showing us something.
Saddened eyes filled with a thousand stories.
Humbled, surrendered soul.
Then a frail smile breaks through.
Perhaps a spark from her muffled neshama is piercing through the darkness. I’d like to think that.
I’d like to imagine that at some point in her life, Cabiria—as well as all of us Cabirias dealing with battle-worn souls—follows that heavenly spark and eventually casts off the heavy garment of the world’s lies and the nefesh’s desires and control . . . to finally unblock the neshama so her soul can exhale and become what it was made to be . . . resting in the only real, lasting hope, the only true lover of her soul, G-d.
Fulfilling the soul’s journey takes a consistent, purposeful time of setting the world’s distractions, viewpoints, and ways aside to traverse the soul’s murmuring deep—your deep calling to G-d’s deep.
Psalm 42:7 says, “Deep is calling to deep at the thunder of your [G-d’s] waterfalls; all your surging rapids and waves are sweeping over me.”
This isn’t about being or getting religious. And it’s not about rote mantras, transcendental meditation, or trance-like states. Nor is it about creating your version of G-d.
This is about setting worldview outside the door and getting and becoming real with the G-d of the Bible, who is . . .
Ruler of the Universe
King of Kings, L-rd of L-rds
It’s about drinking from and submerging in His truth, His Words.
Your soul’s journey starts, grows, and is transformed by being . . . resting within the fibers of His presence, His Word, His ways . . . being hidden in Him, where you’re surrendered. Total white-flag territory.
It’s where your soul matrix gets into sync,
working as a whole with Him,
bowing before Him.
That’s where holy communication is sparked, where you discover yet another layer of who He is, what He is, where He’s moving, how He’s guiding you, what He’s saying to you for this season of your life.
It’s where you’ll swim in the glorious waterfall that flows from His throne and releases . . .
words of knowledge
discernment & understanding
mercy & grace
His consuming fire
Most of us get it backwards—trying to quiet the physical, noisy world around us first in order to create a depth and nourishing quiet within.
All that does is disrupt your soul’s breathing process.
The neshama—that higher level of your soul attached to G-d—needs to flood
your inner and outer world with that true heaven-earth connection,
so you’re grounded in His Word, His truth.
When you’re quieted before Him, surrendered to Him, the river of His stillness will bath your soul—allowing your soul matrix to inhale His presence and exhale His revelations to the world around you.
BRIDGING SCRIPTURES & UNDERSTANDING
No matter which side of the Judaic-Messianic Judaic-Christian bridge you’re on, this is mutually agreed: people have souls. And for the most part, both camps also understand the need to let G-d’s light and truth breathe in and through the soul—and exhale out to humanity.
You, me, and the next guy are all called to be more than a menorah of light—we’re called to love and worship Him in truth and in spirit, becoming His menorah of true light, reflecting that great light of His Word to the world around us. Connecting . . . resting . . . gently, humbly loving.
Psalm 16:7*. My soul instructs me.
[Note: The kidneys denote inner parts, deep parts . . . where the truths of faith exist.]
Psalm 63:2, 9*. My soul is attached to G-d, my heart clings to Him.
Deuteronomy 6:5* & Matthew 22:37. You are to love Adonai your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Proverbs 20:27*. The human spirit is a lamp of ADONAI; it searches one’s inmost being.
Hebrews 4:12. See, the Word of G-d is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword — it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit and joints meet marrow, and it is quick to judge the inner reflections and attitudes of the heart.
Matthew 11:29. [And Yeshua/Jesus said] Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
John 4:23-24. But the hour is coming—indeed, it’s here now—when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. G-d is spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
NOTE: Hebrew Bible scripture/numeral reference
Judaic scripture numbering used for references in the Tanakh/Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”)