Monthly Archives: September 2012

Got soul?

When comparing the Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic, perhaps many would find the Jersey Shore lacking.  I am not one of them.  Living in Pennsylvania, I enjoy proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.  This summer I am part of the large group of Americans to whom the euphemism ‘under-employed’ is applied, so I have contented myself with day trips and good books.  Sitting on the beach, even in Wildwood or Atlantic City, comforts me and heals my soul in a way that church never has.  So here’s what I was reading on the beach this summer:

Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore (1992)

What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter and Me, Rielle Hunter (2012)

In his introduction, Moore said, “When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning” (p.xii).  Well, between daytime talk television and online or mass media news, the violence is abundant.  As Moore said (p.270), “We can only treat badly those things whose soul we disregard.”

In this country, I would add misplaced moral outrage to the symptoms that Moore names, which brings me to Rielle Hunter.  Part of the reason I read her book is because of the angry rants aimed at her by complete strangers on Facebook, online book reviews, and in casual social circles after her book was released early this summer.  She had a relationship with a married public figure that resulted in a child.  That is not an unusual occurrence and has no actual impact on the public at large.  But she does have the right to tell her story and it was interesting.  I don’t know how Moore would respond to Hunter’s story, but here is the quote I would select:

“One of the difficulties in care of the soul is to recognize the necessity of pathos and tragedy.  If we view love only from a high moralistic or hygienic peak, we will overlook its soul settling in the valleys” (p.85).

The entire U.S. Civil War is an example of misplaced moral outrage by the South.  I am astounded by how the rich got the poor to suffer and die in such numbers when there was no possible gain for them.  One book (The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara) suggested the wealthy Southerners convinced poor whites that the North would take away their “rights.”  What rights? – Was it their right to be poor?  The Southern propaganda machine kept the details vague, invented falsehoods, and turned on the outrage with all vigor.  They exploited ignorance, racism and xenophobia to other (used as a verb here) black slaves and inspire a to-the-death-rising-up.  If slavery had been defended by wealthy Southern whites alone, the Civil War would have been over quickly.  The prolonged and painful years of Civil War was only possible with the ongoing support of the Southern ignorant poor and their misplaced moral outrage.

While I am tempted to use this as a jumping off point to correlate the wealthy Civil War Southerners to today’s wealthy Republicans, instead I want to ask you to think about the soul’s place in our world.  Perhaps you would be more comfortable if I would use the word spirit.  Even Moore in 305 pages refused to define soul.  In defining soul Merriam-Webster online said, “the immaterial essence…of an individual life.”  Moore extends soul to be present in places and things.  For me that has happened most easily, and sacredly, with my animal friends.

For you skeptics or atheists I would say there is an essence or spirit in us and around us that offers energy and life lessons.  These forces, as I have experienced them, have both light and darkness.  Many people label energy, people and events as good and evil, of God or the Devil.  As you wish.  The problem is that when you are busy labeling the source, you may miss the message.  Socially this matters because in the labeling, we distract each other from the root of the suffering that then goes unaddressed.  The most powerful tool of propaganda and oppression is DISTRACTION.

I choose to believe we are more than eating, working and procreating carbon life forms.  But how we define our humanity is made real by how we exercise our spirit as individuals and as a society.  Even as we search for meaning we lash out externally instead of exploring internally.  Moore said it best on page 296.

“We want to steal fire from the gods for the sake of humanity.”

So I thank Rielle Hunter for telling me an interesting story on my vacation.  And I thank Thomas Moore for reminding me to listen to the subtle and too quiet songs of my soul.  I don’t usually have patience for poetry but I want to leave you with these final thoughts, from my soul to yours.  -J.B.

I want to die after winter
on a grey, windy day.
The spring winds will know
to carry my ashes,
to the place where the animals rest.

There is a pond
where the goldfish swim,
having given their lives for games at the fair.
The frogs share the pond,
forgetting their hall pass from biology class.

Rabbits from tractors and possums from roadsides,
will meet unwanted domestics who were too long at the animal shelter.

There is a place
where murdered parent orangutans
will be reunited with their stolen baby,
and toothless circus tigers,
will regain dignity.

Pigeons from recreational shoots and three-legged muskrats from traps,
will know rhinos that bled to death for their horns.

There is a vast meadow
where veal calves find their mothers
and learn to graze,
while mice from adhesive traps
run free to fresh grain.

This is the place I will go
to be whole.

I will listen to animal spirits.
I will hear and understand
what I only imagined before.
I will not be lonely for humans
my humanity, forgiven.

And I will be with the animal friends who passed through my life, but left before.
And they will remember me fondly.

The near dead young bunny I found on the road,
will welcome me home.
She will let me hold her without trembling,
and take me to the place
where kittens are kittens forever.

©J.B.Good July 1993

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