- At the Desert Retreat House -
In a thought-provoking op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks suggested that our culture has become “morally emptied, distrustful and fragmented,” and in order to survive as a nation and as a species we all need to rediscover our soul.
While I heartily agree with this sentiment, I do wonder what most people think about when they hear the word, “soul?”
Growing up as a boy I remember seeing a picture of a “soul” in my catechism book. It looked like a little “spiritual heart” residing someplace within the center of my body. I was taught to keep my soul clean by not committing sins and that when I died that soul would be released to go back up to God. My guess is that a lot of people may think of a soul as some sort of “spiritual substance” contained within the body.
Over the years I have come to think of “soul” very differently.
As I see it, the soul is not some separated thing within us - soul is a “spark of transcendence” shared by each and every person, connecting together everything and everyone else in the universe. I very much like this line from C.S. Lewis:
You don’t have a soul.
You are a soul.
You have a body.
Author and teacher, Eckhart Tolle, says something very similar:
You are the universe expressing itself as a human for a little while.
As I see it, the rediscovery of the soul is the rediscovery of the truth that we are more than bodies, we are more than our tiny little egos with all our petty desires. The universe is in us and we all belong to one another- that’s what it means to rediscover the soul.
I remember yet another New York Times article which describes the human person in this way:
The human body is sacred.
It’s not just a piece of meat or a bunch of neurons and cells.
Human beings don’t just live and pass on genes.
They paint, make ethical judgments, savor the beauty of a sunset
and experience the transcendent.
The body is material but surpasses the material,
it is spiritualized matter.
When we rediscover our “soul” we realize that we all are spiritualized matter.
In yesterday’s op-ed piece, Mr. Brooks suggested that if we were to rediscover the soul in these morally bankrupt times:
We would educate young people to have vocations and not just careers.
We would tell them that sex is a fusion of loving souls
and not just a physical act.
We would understand that citizenship is a covenant
and we have a duty to be connected even with those who disagree with us.
We would ask what we are doing to a prisoner’s soul when we throw him into solitary.
When we talked about foreign policy we’d talk not just about
our material interests but also
about what purpose we’ve been called to play in history.
I might also add to this list:
When we rediscover the soul we realize that we are one-with the natural world and what we do to the planet we do to ourselves. In fact, whatever we do to anything or to anyone we do to ourselves because there are no different others. Each of us is an “expression of the universe as a human for a little while.”
I most definitely think that it is time for us all to “rediscover the soul,” and you certainly don’t need to be a Christian or a believer of any sort to do this.