“My soul flies towards the mountain.” Nature often enlivens the soul, says the author, who spent a few days at Riebeek Kasteel.
In faith communities the soul is usually associated with belief in a hereafter.
At the end of an afternoon of fellowship and song with a Gospel Music Group in Los Angeles, we joined hands and offered prayers of thanksgiving to God.
We expressed our sadness at the shortness of our visit, to which the leader of the group responded “we will meet again in heaven one day!”
Those were touching words, but they emphasised the one dimensional understanding of the word soul.
The word soul is commonly used, by Christians, with reference to the spiritual dimension of life. When the body dies, the soul lives on. However, the soul has to be saved or transformed before it can enter heaven.
There has to be a radical change in direction in this life before the soul can enter the afterlife. This is the traditional understanding and raison ‘detre of evangelical groups. There is a similar focus in Islam but rather less emphasis in Judaism.
Theology and philosophy have been trying to define the soul for millennia. The task is incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
To prove the existence of the soul may be beyond the capacity of the finite human intellect. But the human desire to imagine the soul persists.
And we continue to long for an eventual union with the transcendent source of all that is. Our prayer is that “we may come at last, in the fellowship of God’s people, to the harbour where we long to be”.
The search for soul does not centre only on the possibility of a life after this one. In fact, a single- minded focus on preparing for a life in heaven may well result in treating this life as simply a “dress rehearsal”! An authentic search for the soul should always begin with a full acceptance of our humanity.
The springboard of our search should be a persistent dissatisfaction with the way things are, and the development of a deep yearning for a better world. The physical is irrevocably flawed by failure, strife and selfish desire.
There is something within our complex makeup, the soul, that instinctively craves for the restorative effect of a transcendent dimension. This is something that we must cling to with all of our being. This belief gives purpose to life and propels us forward in the face of uncertainty.
In a sense this is the goal of all our desires. We are hoping to realise the best characteristics of our human nature, to discover our authentic selves and in so doing to find meaning and fulfilment.
The journey of self-discovery is not for the faint hearted, for we are continually confronted by our human frailty and ambiguity. There is a tension between our unavoidable physical nature and the unlimited space of transcendence. We cannot change our physical existence and we should not want to do so.
Despite our mortality, our unique physical and mental abilities enable us to experience the richness of consciousness.
We can think about the fact that we are thinking. We can ruminate, reflect, contemplate, analyse, imagine, envision goodness and harmony beyond the prevailing chaos. We can grasp at straws, but we can also reach for the stars. We are able to soar!
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God. From High Flight, John Gillespie Magee
Despite our human limitations, there is still the possibility of a brighter dawn. There is always a silver lining.
And the message is always the same. The future is in our hands. This is a somewhat scary thought, and to believers it may sound too much like humanism.
My reading of history reveals that social transformation has been brought about by the dedicated and determined actions of courageous individuals.
It is a gross abdication of our responsibility to wait for God, the Church, the State or “the magic bullet” of socio-political ideologies to change the world.
We have a choice. We can sit idly by while wallowing in our imagined impotence and incompetence.
We can fall on our knees and beat our chests, while calling on God to intervene.
Or we can do our homework and then throw weight behind those of integrity who are working for the good of all.
Educators, medics, scientists, humanitarians and visionaries who are engaged in ground breaking acts of service. Our words and actions can make a positive difference. We can be the salt of the Earth…
Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise (Philippians 4).
Rudyard Harrison, a retired Methodist minister, counsels at the Ruach Centre in Somerset West.