The Sharpening of Souls


READ:  Proverbs 27:17,19

“As iron is sharpened by iron, so one soul is sharpened by interaction with another soul.” … “As water reflects one’s face back into one’s own face, so one human heart reflects another.” – Proverbs 27:17,19


As I watched Brother William at work sharpening his axe, I thought of the proverb, “As iron is sharpened by iron, so one soul is sharpened by interaction with another soul.”

A few weeks ago, I was gazing into the waters of the stream that flows by my hermitage.  The night before we had hosted a night-long rainstorm in these parts so the stream was deep and wide.  I tossed a stone into the waters and observed the rippling my stone had created, a pattern of ever-enlarging circles which eventually echoed off the bank into an increasingly complex weaving of waters.  In the rippling waters, I could make out my own reflection.  However my reflection was distorted by the troubled waters.  Eventually, the waters returned to calm and as the waters became peaceful, my reflection sharpened into focus.  And then as I continued to gaze into that reflection, the waters of that stream seemed to become more and more of me.  And I thought .. would those waters now remember me?

The contemplative approach to Christian discipleship involves a balance between solitude and community.  With serious intention, we follow a discipline of alone-time and together-time.  To be too much of one and not enough of the other is to weaken one’s spiritual well-being.  We need time when it is only God and me… and we need time when it is only God and we.  Why?  Because iron sharpens iron and soul sharpens soul; water reflects our image and other souls reflect our inner selves.

Awhile back, I wrote a theological paper for my Colloquy, a group of six graduate students who meet to discuss theological matters.  We each in turn write a paper and then share that paper with the group.  We reflect on the paper together … discussing with each other the ideas presented!  The next week, the writer of the paper then “re-writes” his or her paper in light of that discussion. And each time I go through that process … I find that my paper that had been written in solitude becomes enhanced by the time spent in community, when I return to my solitude to re-write it.   The communal interaction always sharpens my thoughts.

As Brother William sharpened his axe, I realized that the sharpening stone could as easily dull the axe as sharpen it.  If the encounter of the iron and the stone is NOT done with care, the edge is dulled, even broken.  But if the encounter of the iron and the stone IS handled with fine care, then the edge is sharpened.  So it is with our human interactions … we can sharpen each other or we can do each other harm … it all depends on the care by which we approach and encounter each other.  The key is a trust in the loving touch!

And that stone that troubled the waters … well, thrown stones are of such ways .. they stir up the waters and distort the reflection of who we are ourselves … as we see ourselves in the reflection of ourselves in others.

My Loved Ones, remember we need both solitude and community … if we are to be mature as Christian disciples.  And when we are in community, we need to remember that there is a spiritual practice known as the prayerful approach to each other, a gentle caring, a patient listening, a kindly embracing … that can sharpen both souls in the moment together.  And as to the throwing of stones? … I find that thrown stones seldom do any good to either soul, and most usually, do a little harm to both.


Brother Anthony of the Cross
(jim mcwhinnie)
— Visit my poetry site, Willow Words, by clicking .
Also visit my new Psalter site for a reading of the Psalms

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