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  • Writer's picture Brian E Pearson

Spirit and Soul

Christians are sometimes faulted for being "so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the 19th C American literary figure who coined the phrase, might merely have been crafting a clever aphorism. But it sticks in our flesh all the same, like the troublesome thorn of St. Paul.

The problem is that for the better part of its two-thousand-year history the church has been more preoccupied with escaping this world than engaging it. The classic spiritual quest takes us precisely in this direction. We long to go "up and out," eschewing the body for the mind, seeking clarity in our beliefs, and consistency in our actions. This life is seen only as preparation for the next.

Soul would take us in the opposite direction. Whereas Spirit wants light and distance and high-minded removal from the day to day, Soul wants the murkiness of close encounters with the messy details of our lives. Spirit asks that we live for the future; Soul, that we live for the moment.

The difference is found in our attitude toward the here and now. Do we embrace it, or do we resist it? While both attitudes are part of being human, the church has for so long looked to the horizon that we need, in the current age, a corrective to keep our feet on the ground and our head in the game.

That corrective is a cultivated soulfulness--a commitment to seek the Holy not only in what is to come, but also in what is here and now. Soulfulness takes us down and it takes us deep, to where life bubbles up in images and impulses, in dreams and in dramas, that are not always understood by the mind. It resolves not so much to understand life as to live it.

Soulfulness ensures that we don't move on to the next life until we have fully lived this one, until we lower our heavenly gaze and, perhaps, restore our "earthly good."

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