I woke up in Assisi one morning and suddenly felt convinced that not enough is being said about the life of the soul. This was caused, in part, by a friend who had asked me a question about the spiritual life and, in part, by a general awareness of the sort of cultural climate in which we live these days.
So I decided it may be opportune to put together a little essay on the soul, to bring together onto one page a few key thoughts, perhaps some foundational thoughts on the nature of the soul, especially considering that with our busy life schedules most of us do not have the time to read huge books on the subject.
These days we are so caught up with what is visible, tangible and audible. Our senses are so engaged with hundreds or thousands of physical stimuli–they constantly impact on us from the external world. It is difficult to find time to “Be still and know that I am God”, as the Psalm (46:10) encourages us. It is easy to forget the Lord’s question, “What does it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world yet lose his own soul?” (Matt 16:26) It is even easy to forget the existence of the soul.
What is the soul? How can we say anything about the life of the soul? So much of what we know and how we come to know these days is conditioned by the progress of science and technology (which is great in itself), by what we can see or hear or touch. There are so many implicit or explicit suggestions which incline us to believe that reality is only what we can see or touch. How can we know anything about the soul which we cannot see or touch in the same way?
Being immaterial, the soul is not going to submit to the material experiments that we normally conduct in science. It is unlikely or impossible that we can ever subject the soul to the mere rigours of logic. Nevertheless, there is an amazingly beautiful and rich analogy between the body and the soul–if only we will hear the voice of faith and reason. For reason is always greater than the ingenious physical experiments that humans may devise to explore the physical cosmos. And knowledge is always greater than mere perception.
Rather than try to subject the soul to any strict logical or scientific analysis, we would do better to recognise the analogy between body and soul. Afterwards we can begin to recognise certain logical connections and relations and progressions which obtain in the life of the soul. Faith and reason work together.
We can learn a good deal about the life of the soul by considering the life of the body. The following depiction is short and to the point and omits mention of many things. My intention is, not to produce a huge work on the subject, but only to provide in a short space what may hopefully be some key or seminal thoughts on the life of the soul.
So let’s look at the life of the body. The body is conceived in its mother’s womb like a seed planted in the earth. The body is nourished with food and drink so that it may grow and develop. The body is exercised so that it grows strong and becomes fit. The body is subject to injury, wounds or disease, but is also able to be cured or healed. The body grows to optimum size and health, after which it begins to grow old and eventually dies. But the body is raised again in the Resurrection to new life in which it no longer is subject to suffering, pain or decay–if we win the crown of eternal life.
Similarly, we can say that the soul is conceived by the power of God and planted in a body to share in a life on earth. The soul is nourished with food and drink (wisdom, light, love, the word of God, the Eucharist) so that it may grow and develop and reach spiritual maturity. The soul is exercised (in prayer, in acts of love, in communicating and communing with other souls and with God) so that it grows strong and becomes fit. The soul is subject to injury, wounds or disease (sin or moral wrong, lethargy, neglect, ignorance, weakness, emotional or psychological wounds) but is also able to be cured or healed (by the Divine Mercy, the Love of God, God’s light and grace and wisdom, and by the love of fellow human beings). The soul is able to grow to optimum health (to become like Christ, in fact) and, unlike the body, may remain in optimum health (with God’s grace and a willing heart) until the body dies. The soul can potentially go to Heaven, after which it is reunited (in the fulness of time) with the body at the Resurrection.