The Hebrew word translated as “soul” in most English translations of the Bible is “nephesh.”
Soul is a good translation of this Hebrew word, but like almost all translations in any language it doesn’t quite get it right. The word nephesh can be translated many ways. Sometimes it can be “a living being.” Or other times, it can be translated as breath. It is sometimes translated as spirit. Nephesh is a wonderful word and soul almost captures it, but not quite.
I like to think of it as the stuff that makes a person who they are. It is not quite their personality, but the core of who they are — the deep down, fundamental elements of what makes them the true human being they are.
I once heard someone describe depression as the state of “losing” oneself. That is, who they are slipped away, or maybe even more accurately was out of their reach. Like they could almost see themselves but didn’t have the ability or even the energy to recover themselves. The depression had caused them to lose themselves, to lose the stuff that makes them who they are, to lose their soul, their nephesh.
When the psalmist says, “I lift up my soul,” it is this word nephesh. The psalmist is saying that the most fundamental thing that makes me who I am, the part of me that is at my core, that thing, that stuff that is me, I lift up, I give to God. It has almost nothing to do with one’s belongings, but everything to do with one’s sense of belonging to the world. It is “my stuff.”
One’s “stuff,” their nephesh is from the beginning a gift from God. At creation, Genesis 2:7 says, God breathed into the human being and God’s breath gave them “nephesh” — the thing they are, the very being they become, the life they have. And when we lose it, the psalmist says “God restores my ‘nephesh’” (Psalm 23:3).
So here, having been given the gift of life/soul/self/nephesh, the psalmist says we lift it up to God. Here, in this 25th Psalm, having already had our soul restored, recovered, found again, reenergized, we offer our it up to God. We give God our stuff, our very selves, our deep-down core of our being, our soul.
Prayer: To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. I give to you my innermost being. I offer to you the stuff that makes me who I am. I place into your hands, the tender part of me that is nearly wordless, just deep breath. I give to you all that matters, with the confidence that you are trustworthy and will hold me faithfully. Amen.