I’m back in London after a few days break, and I’m in my inner London apartment, which is graced with a back garden (some would call it a yard), and though small it may be, it is greatly appreciated by me as a modest space to imbibe a steaming hot cup of coffee, read a good book, and in the evening or early night hours, like now, it’s a good place to rest with a few candles burning away to provide light, and to think.
The last few days have been relaxed. Very busy before that – hence the need to get away for a few days – and the next few days have the potential to be ever-so busy, and more so, if I let them. I’m not going to let that happen. As far as possible I intend to pace myself, plan ahead, and move smoothly through some complex issues regarding house-selling.
But, at times it can feel like a distant storm is approaching, such is modern life today. However, here in my small patch of garden or yard, I’m at peace. Come what may, we determine the effect events have on us.
And right now, ‘it is well with my soul’.
In the twilight, with nearby lamp posts just lighting up, their light is harsh and abrasive. The candle-light offers no competition, and is gentle and seems to hark back to more leisurely times. Candle light, just is. In the fast pace that modern life can move at, the soul can be buffeted even without us knowing. Buffeted, fragmented, parts lost, chipped away. The soul is indeed a vital part of ‘us’ some would say, and delicate, but one many do not consider at all.
‘I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
and held it to the mirror of my eye,
to see it like a star against the sky. Claude McKay)
There is a notion that the eyes are the windows of the soul. And, it certainly seems that our soul resides behind our eyes, and in our skull. For those that are unsure about soul nature, that’s a good start. But, I do believe the soul is stranger than that. There’s more.
Why should we surmise that our soul is behind our eyes and located in a small ‘box’ where our brain resides? Like most people, the idea is that the soul, infact, inhabits part of the body.
The candles on the garden table number seven distinct, small candles and yet their light travels far. At first, their light seemed to travel just a few inches, but now it seems their flickering light can be measured in yards or metres. The change is no real change at all. The candle light travelled just as far as it ever did. What changed was my perception of their light and the ‘acclimatisation’ of my eyes.
Strangeness #1: Could it be that your soul doesn’t inhabit your body, but that your body inhabits a much larger and all-pervading soul, and that your soul is the size of an apartment block? Ofcourse, the soul is immaterial, but to be ‘materially-minded’ for a moment, yes, your soul is bigger than your physical body. I think so.
Have you ever looked deeply into someone’s eyes, and had that ‘ocular swap’ episode, that sensation, feeling or ‘shock’ where you can see (of feel) yourself looking back, even for a moment? And that may happen in rapid succession in a few seconds?
The idea that the soul is separate may be useful at times and it may be the dominant view in our society – but then we live in an individualistic age – but it isn’t the best way of looking at the soul.
Some of the small candles on the garden table are flickering, spluttering and for a moment one or two emit less light, and yet no shadow is cast. Together, whether glowing at brightly or reduced in light, they work together.
Strangeness #2: There is also a soul-connectedness to other people. It’s as if, as we move pass people (whether physical or otherwise) we ‘connect’ and influence them, and they affect us. Sometimes, just their presence does that.
‘…as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40b
And, perhaps there’s some reciprocity occurring. What we do, send, think about others comes back to us. Perhaps, by way of analogy, our soul appears individually like the spokes on the outer rim of a wheel, so that we can see another soul at a short distance on the rim, so to speak. And, then as we travel nearer the hub our souls become ‘closer’ and entwined, so that we are ‘soulishly’ connected to each other.
Strangeness #3: ‘Soulishly’, we are all connected to One! But, there’s more. At the hub we become one with the Hub of All, that which some might call the Source of All. Simultaneously individual, and yet connected and entwined, and yet One!
‘There is something strange, hidden in the symmetry of the soul. When you diminish another person, you diminish yourself. When you diminish yourself, you diminish others’. John O’Donohue.
It’s late. The air is cooling, and it’s time to take the now-cold cup of coffee and book indoors. Extinguishing the candle-light the garden or yard (I like to think of it as a small garden) is plunged into darkness. No more light. No more analogies. Except that speeding away from the little garden table, and at the speed of light, that candle-light is indeed continuing on a journey, unbeknownst to me, but seen by others if there were twenty light-seconds away. [I worked it out: potential observers would be about 3.75million miles away, and would just now be seeing me extinguish the candles].
Perhaps I can ‘sneak’ in another strange theory (Strangeness #4) that: however it looks from our perspective, the soul continues on, just like that candle light.
And, then, as an after-thought. Our language has limits (hence the use of analogies and metaphors) and our journey into the strangeness of the soul is a slow one – slow is good – and so in talking about us having a soul, perhaps we should bear in mind, as a timely reminder, the words of C S Lewis.
‘You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.’ C S Lewis