Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Mystery of the Soul: Symbol and Salvation

Dear Psyche,

I’m having trouble moving my thought processes along in a clearly discernable way. Last night I realized that the best thing to do would be to try to say it and have you and anyone else who wants to try, rip it apart and then I’ll put it back together again.

Let me draw a picture.

God waited around for Moses to die. He didn’t rush the process and I think it is because God likes poetry (hence God would no doubt be entertained by the Paterson Project) and waited around for Moses to speak to the end of his last “Ha’azinu,” his last proclamation of a “Shema Israel.” In a way, it reminds me of John the Baptist’s death question to Jesus. “Are you really the Christ?” But Moses rolls it out more, beginning in his own voice with a proclamation of God’s name, “Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.” But he turns the voice of the poem over to the Rock, seeking confirmation to the earlier “Shema Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” And the Rock doesn’t say, “hear”, it says, “See now that I myself am He! There is no God besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.” And then Moses dies.

And then, Joshua begins. And the folks of Israel are ready to enter the land of dreams. And this part of Scripture is where I, too, begin in piecing together my picture of the human soul. The children must cross the River Jordan in order to enter the Promised Land. Of course, I don’t have to talk about the salvation symbolism that has splashed out of that river. The whole party of Israelites went through the dry baptism of the River Jordan led by the covenant of God. And when they had reached the other side, Joshua chose 12 disciples and sent them back out into the riverbed to gather memorial stones. Those they brought to where they lived in the camp. And Joshua made a pile to serve as an eternal reminder.

That pile of rocks, for me, describes the human soul. Our souls are monuments to the salvation of the Lord, the Rock of our salvation. The salvific act of crossing the Jordan is one thing and it is a miracle of God and has to do with the essence of our beings. But the composition of our eternal souls is a rock collection that memorializes for time and eternity the existential affirmations, happening moment by moment, to the salvation that enlivens us.

The other symbols of Scripture that speak of soul are similar in their multiplicity of form. The children of Israel themselves are a picture of the soul. The grapes of the vineyard. The molecules that make up the baby being born. All have unity and diversity, singularity and multiplicity intrinsic to them. The soul is not a singularity.

Believe it or not, this is where I begin my thinking about exclusivism. And I'll continue this line of thinking another day.



Anne G G said...

Eager to here more on this topic. I've always liked your "pile of stones" ideas about the soul.

T. Azimuth Schwitters said...

as always, this is strikingly beautiful and moving, brd. even when i do not comment back on your posts, i want you to know i read them, and i am often moved by them. as for your content, the image is a striking one, and the view of israel as a nation directing an idea of salvation and/or soul is a complex and interesting one. i agree with you about the stones, i think - certainly, the soul must be something pieced together from, for lack of a better term, the labor of a christian's journey, but what of its physical permanence? i have to confess, as someone who grew up largely in faith (my own 'behind the music' is almost disappointingly bland), i have always had trouble differentiating the Spirit and my own soul - and i wonder, particularly now, what that might mean. what is good in me is not me - that's a dogmatic conclusion that i've come to in a less damnable way than the phrasing might suggest - but the soul, i think, must be a marker of those experiences as they have been shaped or illuminated by faith, for better AND worse. in that way, i like your image a great, great deal, even though i often think of the soul as a type of battleground (perhaps more evidence for the idea of a 'marker'?).

in any case, i'm not sure what my point is with any of this - i suppose i, like you, felt 'talking it out' might do more for reaching a conclusion than rolling it over in my head. i imagine my question for you is this: is the soul entirely an issue of summation - or of collection, in the idea of the rocks - or is there something about it that is more than a memorial? i don't believe this is in much opposition to your intent, but its the question that spun out of your post for me.

as always, i wish you well, i look forward to your next post, and i appreciate (very much) the advertisement for our project in your post.


brd said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate the "talking it out" style of this. You mentioned, "what of its physical permanence." I won't address that until my next post, which I have had in draft form for several days. I'm tweaking it! (And I want you to play, "name that quote" when I post it.)

Perhaps, one day we will have a chance to share histories, but I too grew up "in faith" as you say and in a "faith community." For me, the bland sets in when either I set limits on thought or, as gbs might say, limits on engaging-ment.

In regard to soul as summation or collection, perhaps I should shift to my other favorite soul analogy--soul as flock of birds. This carries a greater sense of the dynamic while maintaining the picture of unity and diversity. I won't go further here, for I think this too will be addressed better in my next post. (Not the frog one.)