Sunday, July 9, 2017
Does the soul expand beyond and outlast the body?
I recall the great souled ones I have encountered through stories, many of whom have been preserved in the writings of their acolytes and scholars: Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu, Sappho, Socrates, Francis, Lincoln, for example. Some of whom I have heard in my own lifetime: Gandhi, de Beauvoir, Havel, Tubman, Mandela, Einstein, King. And there are my great souled personal heroes—friends, relations, teachers, pastors--who, without celebrity, mentored me in my own journey. I name them all in my own soul as long as my mind will function.
And beyond. They have entered into my character to shape who I am and who I want to be. They have helped me unite with them, you, and others to create a world and give it hope by celebrating life and confronting injustice. They bring light to our minds and lead us little ones to big purpose. The great souled ones have generated an atmosphere of enlightened, loving consciousness incasing the world to heal the poisoned atmosphere of fear and hate of small minded, no souled ones: they who for mere short-term profit pollute our atmosphere and ravage the earth which is the condition of our life and soul growing.
I join my soul with these great souled ones by seeking to critically know and to generously love in the face of the ignorance and hate of others. Other truths, other perspectives, other ways of being human. I join them by listening deeply, by putting on their habits, by taking on their project, by entering their adventure, and by pursuing their transcendent purpose. This union of souls unites past to future, spirit in matter, and individuality within community. I hope that union will persist eternally forever. And this hope which I freely choose drives me to live as fully as I can now and for the future.
This here-and-now hope founds the great images, myths, and allegories of an afterlife, a heaven or paradise to come, a time of enjoyment with the gods, the veneration of ancestors and saints, a return of my personal fire to the great conflagration, resurrection and eternity even in the certainty of mortality. I accept that hope is fragile. I accept that there is as much evidence for failure for the human prospect as there is for success. I accept that the knowledge I now have will change. I accept that I and all the people I know and love shall die. It is only our faith that provides the evidence of a future.
As I ease into and accept aging and death, the lifelong project that began the moment of my birth, I realize that my body will dissolve into the elements of the universe from which it arose; but my soul, if grown large enough, will endure in the transcending consciousness of the universe with which I connect and to which I contribute. Using the language of information theory, I have added my bits.
I am matter that the earth generated within a universe which, organizing itself over billions of years, produced life and spirit. In me, in concert with you and our world, spirit is emerging from the potentiality for consciousness of every atom and bit of matter. These atoms and bits are being joined to produce new forms and organizations of matter into life and thought and love. I need not be conscious as a particular ego or a named self to join my soul with the soul of loved and loving ones, with the soul of the earth and the universe. In choosing faith, hope, and love, I choose eternity and infinity. I choose transcending consciousness or emerging spirit and growing soul—which in different times and language has been understood as the essence of God.
In reflecting on the birth, growth, and future of soul, I also reflect on my theology in transmodern times. The theology I advocate is consistent with contemporary science and its method. It rejects supernatural explanations by embracing nature as discovered through observation and verified by experiment. It surpasses conventional wisdom by engaging in critical thinking. It finds in the uncertainty of empirical knowledge the way to truth. New theology is search, adventure, and process. It discards dogmatism, the irrevocability and permanence of beliefs, in favor of faith, the continuing, never-ending desire and drive for truth.
What makes this search theology over and beyond empirical science is that it appeals to subjective as well as objective data, that is, to the dynamic drive of transcending consciousness as experienced in the very act of sensing, imagining, and understanding the world in which we find ourselves inventing. It perpetually begins and ends in the wonder of faith, the anticipation of hope, and the realization of love. Amazement, expectation, and communion. Theology is the grasp of incorporated soulfulness, relational uniqueness, intersubjective individuality, spirit in matter.
As I inquire into and try to describe the soul and its development, I make up and tell a story that has value insofar as 1) it is interesting and engaging, 2) it fits the emerging scientific story of the universe, 3) it is inclusive, not divisive, offering a way to understand other stories from other perspectives and cultures, 4) it provides the rationale to keep alive and learning, 5) it communicates the transcendent aim and purpose for existence personally and collectively, 6) it impels me here and now to pass beyond our present by engaging our past to risk our future. This unfolding narrative is my theology--the context of my communication, the basis of my belief, the story of my soul.
Important is not the account in words or depiction in pictures, but the story as lived with others: the activities of falling in love, raising children, discussing the world’s problems with friends, saying hello to the stranger on the street, acting for peace by protesting injustice in the public forum. A person with soul tells her stories by living them with others. These stories as lived contribute to the culture and nudge our transcending consciousness forward towards the meaning of ourselves and our universe. This is not the immortality of the living dead, of spooky souls extricated from bodies, of a fixed and unchanging egos, or of the extension of lives being attempted through the technological singularity. Nevertheless, even in aging and death, spirit soars and soul persists.