all the gifts of God are gifts we possess. If God is an expression of life and love and is brimming with beauty, creativity, joy, wonder and oneness, then that is what we are meant to be.
I spent the past several days falling in love again with our one-year old granddaughter, Ava. She and her mom and dad flew in from Portland, Oregon to help celebrate my in-laws’ 60th wedding anniversary, my 65th birthday and of course, Ava’s very first birthday. For the most part, the majority of time was spent sitting around and marveling at this beautiful and intelligent new addition to our family.
Watching Ava grow and learn, even in the short time she was here, made me wonder about her soul. I believe she has one, but I ponder when did she get it. At inception? At birth? Somewhere in between? And, how does her soul relate to her as a growing person? Is the soul fully formed in a child and only waiting for our intellect to catch up?
These are questions many have been grappling with for centuries. The literature is full of articles, and treatises on the issue of whether mankind is imbued with an eternal soul and how that does or does not play out in day to day life. I believe that each of us must find our own answer to this fundamental question; one that resonates as truth to us; one we can rely on because we found the answer through our own journey, rather than accept some dogma or belief from an ancient religion. I suppose that’s the Quaker part of me.
As I approach this question, here are some foundational truths in which I believe: Each soul is a unique expression of the individual and it will survive beyond death. Like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I believe that we are – at our core – a spiritual being living in a temporal body. These are beliefs I have consistently held for quite some time. Where I am less certain is how or whether our souls relate to God and whether the soul is eternal, meaning it has always been and will always be.
It seems to me that the question of whether the soul is eternal is linked intimately the question of how the soul relates to God. If the soul is not eternal, then it appears that the function of the soul might be to serve as a conduit to God. One could think of the soul as the cosmic receiver of the message of God. This reminds me of the Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo depicting the creation of Adam where God is reaching out his finger, nearly touching the finger of Adam: the transmission of soul from God to man. (By the way, I don’t think of God as a person as shown in this painting. I use the pronoun “he” only for convenience. To me, God is energy, light, wisdom, and love).
The other possibility is that the soul is the very essence of God, reflecting all his love, mercy and wisdom into each of us (if we would only listen). It is easier to believe that the soul is merely a conduit to God and is not the essence of God. If the soul is God’s essence, then we would have to accept the idea that each of us is a son or daughter of God.
If our souls are God expressing himself as each of us, then all the gifts of God are gifts we possess. If God is an expression of life and love and is brimming with beauty, creativity, joy, wonder and oneness, then that is what we are meant to be. It is not that we are a mere reflection of God. Rather, God is projecting himself as us! How special is that?
This idea that the soul is God’s projection of each of us brings to mind the poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire and that pinnacle phrase within the poem which extolls: “What I do is me: for that I came.” That phrase conveys the idea that we come into being for the express purpose of uniquely experiencing the world as who we are.
Are we an expression of God, wanting to see the world from our perspective or are we independent beings who are simply hot-wired to God through our soul? No one can really say for sure. But what I do know is this: that I and Ava and each of us is unique to all the universe and through all of time. The world seen through our eyes is a world that can’t be seen by anyone else.
Watching Ava play and take her first steps, I just knew she was precious and loving and unique. But, until I pondered the richness of her soul, I didn’t realize the full uniqueness and wonder of this child. Ava – like each of us – is a beloved child of God.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.