The Soul (Part 2: Souls Today)
Posted on: Apr 3, 2023
We ended last month’s Thoughts by pointing out that the New Testament Greek word for soul is psychē. Modern English uses this term as the root for many words, e.g. psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and dozens more.
We commonly understand psychology as the science of the mind or of mental states and processes—why we think the way we do. This seems to be quite different from what New Testament writers meant when they used the Greek word psychē for what we today call soul.
For New Testament writers, “the soul is the seat and center of the inner life of the human, and the location of the feelings and emotions . . . . [It] survives after the death of the body and receives the rewards and punishments of the afterlife . . . .”1
Because the mind is so complex, psychology has become a very wide field with many subdivisions and branches of study. Major areas of psychology include:
- clinical psychology, which involves diagnosing and treating personality and behavior orders;
- cognitive psychology, which studies mental processes such as memory, language, and perception; and
- developmental psychology, which studies how our mental processes change as we age and experience more of life.
It may be hard to see today how psychē and soul were ever related without reviewing the history of western thought over the centuries.
There is a continuity between the terms, however, with this modern definition of soul: “the spirit or immaterial part of humans, the seat of human personality, intellect, will, and emotions, that many regard as an entity that survives the body after death.”2
Today we think of a soulful person as one who is full of deep feeling or expresses deep feeling—someone who is profoundly emotional. In contrast, a soulless person lacks such sensitivity—lacks the capacity to feel deeply.
Thus many feel they have found their “soulmate” when they meet someone whose nature, point of view and sensitivities are similar to their own.
In Richard Rohrer’s view, our souls are more than a list of intangibles that define us. Rather, our souls are dynamic aspects of our identities that, at our best, enrich our lives and the lives of others.
After decades as a Franciscan teacher, . . . I find that many, if not most, people and institutions remain stymied in the preoccupations of the first half of life. By that I mean that most people’s concerns remain those of establishing their personal identity, creating various boundaries, and seeking security and success.
These tasks are good to some degree and even necessary . . . . The world would be much worse off if we did not do the important work of ego-development.
I believe that God us our soul—our deepest identity, our True Self, our unique blueprint—at our own conception. Our unique little bit of heaven is installed by the Manufacturer within the product, at the beginning!
We are given a span of years to discover it, to choose it, and to live our own destiny to the full . . . . The discovery of our soul is crucial and of pressing importance for each of us and for the world.
We do not ‘make’ or ‘create’ our souls; we just ‘grow’ them up. We are the clumsy stewards of our own souls. Much of our work is learning how to stay out of the way of this rather natural growing and awakening. We need to unlearn a lot, to get back to that foundational life. This is why religious traditions call the process ‘conversion’ or ‘repentance .’ . . .
Following our inner blueprint or soul and humbly serving others is indeed of ultimate concern . . . . This is our life’s purpose, the deepest meaning of ‘natural law.’ We are here to give back freely what was first given to us! It takes both halves of our life to fulfill this calling.3
Those of us who have reached a certain chronological maturity are not “off the hook.” God still calls us to grow our souls as we seek to do what is right for others, practice kindness towards all, and pursue walking humbly each day with God.
1White, Sidnie Ann, “Human Person.” In Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 295-296.
2Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc., 2023.
3Rohrer, Richard. Downloaded from https://cac.org/dailymeditations/the-further-journey-2018-03-28/.