A poetic attempt…
Soul is a collective and chiastically emanating palindrome of resonant emergence at the intersection of time and timelessness. Stretching out symmetrically and holographically in parallel to an expanding, dynamic universe. Imprinting itself in equal measure to the cosmos’ imprint on it.
Subsumed and enfolded as yeast is to dough, and vice-versa; bringing to bear the creative materiality that is the all-encompassing, all-penetrating business of divine intention-a grouping of individual cells partnering to carry out the work of higher causality-some physically embodied, others not. Though all material. Ultimately bringing along all that has been lost to denser and darker realms to their rightful place of nesting.
“I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.”[i]
That is to say, soul, is more a collection of a gathered, coherent, and interconnected network of highly subtle energy, than something any one individual possesses. Soul is the unified materiality which God travels through to hold the cosmic order in homeostasis within the field of mercy. Infinitely more dynamic than traditional static notions reflect.
Gifted though not unearned. It is forged in the medium of mixtus-orbis, with its necessary catalytic ingredients of pain and jaggedness. Soul’s possibility remaining essentially dependent on human desire. Moving towards ever more integrated complexity (read evolution as deepening incarnation).
Its earmark tincture being a transparent personhood, pointing ever beyond itself in cooperation with origin’s immediacy, not only retaining individual particularity but energetically emphasizing it through “tighter and tighter tolerances” of causality.[ii]
And for this reason, it is only the individual that can submit to the alchemical work it takes to begin to build the bridge from the seed of conscience to the network of soul by way of stabilizing a body capable of holding such subtle force. It is here where any conversation on something we might begin to recover, gather and recast as soul can begin.
Drawing on the fourth chapter of the 14th century text, The Cloud of Unknowing, Cynthia Bourgeault points to this phenomenon, reflecting its principle of mutual exchange and elasticity between the human and its milieu in all of its density and expansiveness when she writes, “Time is swallowed up not by death but by the complete reunion of wills.”[iii]
Evolution as ever more personal, particular and intimate becoming.
The now quite famous revelation of Thomas Merton reflects the potentiality of this transmutated seeing and its practical impact-to return the human being to the liberating delight of solidarity with the human race, in service to its becoming, completely repositioning the role of spiritual work.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers…The sense of liberation from an illusory difference (as a “spiritual” man living a separated existence) was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others”
He adds, “A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
And repositioning the role of spiritual work, he continues, “This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is in fact the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to anyone completely immersed in other cares, the other illusions and all the automatisms of a tightly collective existence. My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them-and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers!”[iv]
The beauty and privilege of being human, creating from within its collectivity, strengthening the fabric of its connections towards a reflection of its ever divine origins in the transparency that is the resonance of soul. Infinitely growing as we speak.
The modern spiritual teacher Andrew Harvey reflects on a life-changing encounter with his spiritual teacher, Bede Griffiths, on his death bed.
“He said again and again and again, “Serve the growing Christ.” And because I was in that charged, ecstatic, holy, tender, loving communion with him, by his bedside, I understood on a visceral level, immediately through his grace and through the grace of the Beloved, what those words meant, those four words. They meant that the Divine Beloved is growing in all of us and is destined to be born in us, heart, mind, soul, and body. And that our task now is this tremendous birth that’s taking place through a tremendous death is to serve that birth by trying to embody it, its radiance and its joy and its passion and its compassion and its passion for justice as deeply as possible and encouraging it, the signs of this tremendous birth to get ever more vibrant.
When I asked him in a lucid moment what he meant, he said, "All great births are terrifying because they are more than transformations," he said. "They are mutations. They are the birthing of a new species, a species that has taken a quantum leap of embodiment."[v]
We stand invited to take another leap of embodiment in building and what the Western Inner Tradition names, second body. Moving towards the co-creative possibility of a “reunion of wills” that might one day, by way of an ocean of mercy, resemble something like soul.
Spiritual work now no longer lofty and a flight from the world but a return towards our own goodness and kinship with one another. Rooted in a deeper body than the physical one. While dignifying and revealing the true nature and purpose of the physical one like a husk to corn-both as a protective, creative mechanism and a porous vehicle (eventually parted with) for building a finer vehicle toward more attuned transmission of subtle food for the nourishment of the worlds. Where soul reflects Origin in mutual consummate submitted and eternal celebration. The living Logos of the the liturgical utterance: World Without End.
[i] Words from George Fox as quoted in: Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (New York: Harper One, 1941).
[ii] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Eye of the Heart (Boulder: Shambala, 2020).
[iii] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer (Boulder: Shambala, 2016), 200.
[iv] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Double Day, 1966), 156-158.
Jonathan lives in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas with his wife, dogs and three children. His teaching blends the Christian Contemplative tradition, 4th Way spirituality and the teachings behind the Enneagram - with a focus on companioning others from the unified and collective field accessed through the heart. He is a life-long seeker who offers, retreats, workshops and private Spiritual Direction in person or by zoom, one-to-one or in groups.