I Used to Think About This All the Time
This is one of my ♥ favorite essays
The fetus grows toward soulhood. It began in the land of the unliving, of elements, of formless matter and energy. It was not one thing, it was many things. It had no spirit and no soul.
The fetus spirit moves into the land of plants and dreams: unconscious, potential, dark and unthinking. It grows larger, it moves, “it” becomes “he,” he flutters, he wiggles, he hiccups. He inverts, his eyes open, he hears murmurs of voices and heartbeats. He wants to be born, he makes himself be born. He comes out of the between-world, the womb, the world of unthinking life of the sea, the world of life between dead things and sentient things. He is coming into our world now, the world of action and form and spirit.
Spirit is the gift of all living things, however low. Spirit is the will to animate, to thrive, to reproduce, to sicken, to die. Spirit is the blessing and curse of life. To be born is to die, and between those two is a constant state of Impermanence.
You cannot remember your birth, you cannot remember your first words, you cannot remember the world of unconnected sensations, of thoughts without forms and structures. My son lives in that world now. The world of insects, of small things that want light, warmth, food, sleep, comfort. Ahead of him is the growth of his soul.
Soul is the gift of sentient beings. We take our souls from God when we structure the world for ourselves, when we say: “here is the boundary between myself and all other things.” To have a soul means to know what it is to be unique, and to know that you will die. This the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; as long as we draw that boundary we eat that fruit.
Some souls are big and some are small. An adult human, armed with words and math and art and religion and science, has a huge soul that can change the rest of the universe. To shoot an arrow is to strike something with an arrow, that is the Law of Consequence, a law of nature like the second law of thermodynamics. To act without consideration of consequence is soulless.
If animals have souls, they are tiny souls with small aspirations and abilities. Right now my dog has a bigger soul than my son, but that situation won’t persist very long. Maybe other animals have souls like humans, animals like dolphins or chimpanzees or parrots. They have to think about souls in their own way, if they can. I think that all humans have a soul, but it wasn’t given to us in any one instant, we stole it in little pieces from God, we are always stealing more of our soul from God. To Live in Grace is to sometimes, voluntarily, give a little of it back.
“God” is the word we use when we try to understand the soul. We have written about God for three thousand years and we talked about God for tens of thousands of years before that. The Old Sage said “don’t confuse the finger pointing at the moon with the moon.” The Prophet said “the human mind cannot comprehend God.” I used to read a lot about God, but you can’t learn to plow by reading books. I think words are suspect. Human beings said every word ever. I think everyone ever, including myself, has misunderstood the nature of God. I think the most definitive thing you can say about God is: if someone tells you about the nature of God, whatever they say is wrong.
Science is a tool for understanding how wrong you are, that’s why science says so little about God.
I call myself a spiritual atheist, does anyone else do this?