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Concern for My Soul

June 30, 2016

It has been said that the concern of the healing arts is one’s body; the concern of religions is one’s soul. But the word “soul” is the English translation of a variety of words in the Bible – words that point to real human experience that is beyond the words themselves. In a recent weekly essay, Bishop John Shelby Spong answered a questioner’s concern:

“I find human words “squishy” when trying to define topics which words cannot fully embrace. The Greeks used the word “soma” to refer to bodies, but they also used the word “sarx,” which got translated as “flesh.” The word “psyche” could mean mind, but the Greeks also used the word “nous” to refer to the mind. Psyche could also mean “soul.” The words are anything but precise.

“The Hebrew word “nephesh” is translated as “soul” or “spirit,” but it literally means breath. Ruach was the Hebrew word for “wind,” but it also meant “spirit”. So I don’t find it helpful just to assume that words convey a consistent message. Words are, however, all that human beings have to use, but in the non-scientific, inexact areas of human experience, they leave much to be desired.

“In my opinion, [religions – as well as] all the healing arts – have one primary goal, which is to make people whole. The sign of wholeness is not found in any particular religious formulation, but is an expression of a deeper level of self-acceptance, one that expresses itself in the ability to give yourself away in love to another. The word “grace,” so freely used in religious circles, means the recognition that we are ultimately not self-made people, but are dependent on another for both life and love, which for me are synonyms for God. Obviously the gift of life is given to us by our parents. Not as obvious, but equally true, is that we have to be loved into the ability to love. We cannot give away what we have not received. We are driven by our own biology to be survival-oriented and thus self-centered. The grace of love is the only thing that can lift us beyond our survival needs and enable us to live for others.

“The healing disciplines deal with both the physical and mental distortions that have been passed on to us in the course of life. This fact should free us from moralizing, one of the favorite pastimes of religious people. Judgment is difficult, however, when we know that unloved people hurt others, that abused children are likely to turn into being abusive adults and that, in biblical language, “the sins of the fathers (and mothers) are passed on to the third and fourth generation.

‘[Our] task . . . is to bring wholeness to life. If using words like “soul” are helpful, that is fine; if not, [one should] feel free to abandon those words. Wholeness comes to our bodies, minds, spirits and souls in a variety of ways. The task of [a] would-be healer, [whether a minister or doctor or parent or teacher, or you or me] is to enable every person, no matter how badly he or she has been wounded by life, to find the courage to be all that he or she can be.”  [from , June 30, 2016]

Loren Bullock
June 30, 2016

From → Being Human, Beliefs

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