I am starting to like my soul
I found these words, I am starting to like my soul, scribbled in crayon on a sticky note and pinned to my refrigerator recently by a friend. Like a spark they have ignited a curiosity in me to ponder what it means to like one’s soul. One of the perks of being on doctor-prescribed bed rest is plenty of sweet time for reading, study, and reflection. You should see the stack of books at my bedside, some of which have waited patiently for months, even years for my attention. Thomas Merton, my favorite Trappist monk and author, had much to say on the subject of the soul. He believed the soul was the only untainted part of us, the ground of our being, the very dwelling place of the Divine. Merton said, “the inner being is as secret as God.” I imagine the soul as one of those magical Moroccan lanterns, each unique and intricately carved to encourage the light to dance across every surface. Our soul is God’s creative way of insuring that we would never be without light in the darkness.
An ancient philosopher once said to a colleague, “I am aware of something in me which sparkles; I clearly perceive that it is something but what I cannot exactly grasp. Yet it seems if I could only seize it I should know all truth.” To which the other philosopher replied, “Follow it boldly. For if you can seize it, you will possess the sum total of all good and have eternal life.”
I wonder if this is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “One must lose their life, to gain it.” Or rather, we must lose our earthly life, to discover the eternal life that lives within us. Intellectually, I know that if I would spend a little more time listening to my soul, really getting to know that most intimate part of my being, and less time caught up in the noise of this imperfect and unpredictable world, I would certainly be a less knotted human being. I would probably have less fear and more courage, less angst and more peace, less pride and more room for love. I would have an easier time looking past the gnarled parts of humanity to see more of the beauty and likeness of the Divine tattooed on every human soul. But sadly, more than not, I walk this planet stubborn, blind, and completely oblivious to the divine potential and purpose of my soul.
The name Buddha simply means, “the awakened one.” It is said that the Buddha experienced enlightenment when he realized I and Thou are one. To be “awake” is to know that Christ lives within us. We become tangled in our humanity when we are exiled from our soul, from that intuitive and intimately divine part of us. It is in the act of gripping with all our might to the naive perception that we are actually in control of our lives, not God, that inhibits us from living from our truest nature and potential. It is by our soul, the best part of ourselves, that empowers us to mend the world, speak the language of mercy, and love divinely. To say it more boldly, tucked within each one of our souls is the soul of God. The soul of God lives eternally and it provides the answer to why we are here and for what purpose we spend a measure of time on this planet. If only we would have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the hearts to first love our own souls, and then love the souls of others.
I fear that a great deal of the angst and ache of humanity is a result of our battling with the likeness of God in our soul. We honestly believe that our own strength has a chance against the strength of God. And so we spend a lifetime wrestling with God, instead of allowing God to work through us. It reminds me of the biblical story of Jacob wrestling the angel of God. Jacob, the exemplar of human stubbornness, was determined to fight til the end, wounded hip and all. And then something happened, the light bulb went off deep inside Jacob. He was awakened! Instead of fighting with God, he asked for God’s blessing. For the first time, this mule of a man, began to like and honor his soul. We know that Jacob was transformed and experienced an enlightenment because God bestowed upon him a new name, Israel. But more telling was the moment that Jacob looked upon the face of his estranged brother and saw only the face of God.
Thomas Merton said, “the truly free man is the one who has restored in his soul the image of God. And thus is able to worthily bear his dignity as a son of God.” The Zen Masters instruct their disciples to go and find the face they had before they were born or the face they will have when they have died to this world. If you had any doubts as to the purpose of this quest, it is the soul’s adventure to find again the face of God. A hint: It was and will always be tucked inside your soul. It seems to me as we begin the adventure of this New Year, we should think less about resolutions and more about becoming reacquainted with that curious, mysterious, and eternal part of our being. We must seriously ask ourselves if we are living each day on this planet as if the Divine truly breathed within us. Oh what a gift to believe that beyond all of these rough edges, deep within me, there is a softness, the place of my soul, where God dwells.
Live in Hope,