The soul is a mysterious, slippery concept. Many people talk about it, but few can precisely define it. I think of the soul as our bridge to the divine. Let me explain what I mean with a story.
I majored in religion in college, and I believed that I had come home. My course of study was both fascinating and inspirational. I made plans to pursue a Ph.D. in New Testament studies upon graduation.
During that first summer following my graduation from college, I read several books in preparation for my future studies. At one point, I read a commentary on the resurrection which casually pointed out that the gospels disagreed as to where the resurrection took place. After reading chapter 28 in Matthew and chapter 24 in Luke, I spent a sleepless night and withdrew from the graduate program the next morning. My beliefs were shaken, my dreams shattered. Two years later I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Latin American studies.
The events surrounding my first academic job were exciting. For one thing, we purchased a new house. While unpacking and putting the house in order, Lyn asked me to either throw out my religion books or to take them to my office at school. The books had been packed in boxes following my graduation from college, and had not been touched since.
It was a close call, but I decided to take them to my office. A week prior to the beginning of my first semester as a college professor, I loaded the books into the car and unloaded them at the other end. My plan was to throw them on the shelves and get on with my day. There was so much to do to get ready for my first day of classes.
But that is not what happened. I began unopening the books at 9 a.m. in the morning. I dusted each book with care, devotion really, I reread pages with reverence and wonder, fussed over the arrangement of each book on the shelf, and had trouble parting with some of my favorite authors. My demeanor was filled with wonder, beauty, the goodness of life, even love.
The rapt attention and focus that occupied me as I undertook this task was interrupted at 3:30 p.m. when the telephone rang. I had promised a colleague a ride home, and he was calling about time. I asked for half an hour, and hung up the phone stunned. I had not left the office in six and a half hours.
The human brain constructs models of reality that define perception, which allows an individual to function in the world. These models organize and filter the reality we experience from among the infinite range of possible perceptions “out there.” As biological creatures with a will to survive, the brain constructs a model which reflects off of the body. This egocentric model defines the world not as things are, but as we are. It’s a guiding voice that pushes us to act and to see the world in terms of our own needs and desires.
The soul is a model of reality that reflects off of the divine, our bridge to God. As I unopened those boxes of books, my world was defined by reverence, beauty, goodness, and wonder. I recognized my soul because that is not how I usually see the world. Time stood still, an ordinary event was infused with meaning and mystery. As I reflect back on that experience, I recall other surprising experiences with the same message. There is another voice inside me that seeks to organize and guide my world in terms of authentic existence with a focus defined by love, beauty, goodness, and wonder.
The models of reality that direct our perception and guide our lives are complex and multifaceted. The ego pushes us to great achievement, and toward anger, resentment, envy, and distrust. The voice of soul is quieter, mysterious, surprising, and less insistence. God seems to want to protect our freedom as individuals. It’s a voice that pushes us toward uniqueness, intimacy with others, depth of experience, and purpose in life.
It is important to meet your soul. If you listen to it, a task that is not always easy to do, and organize your perception around it, your life will be filed with purpose and meaning. Your soul also puts you in touch with God, that gentle voice that wants you to fulfill your dreams, to live your life with purpose and meaning from a perspective that is loving, at peace with self and the world, compassionate, and with a reverence for all of life.
Rick Herrick, a retired university professor, is the author of The Case Against Evangelical Christianity.