Monday, December 22, 2008

The Soul's Angst.

The soul is both meaning and end of the whole of our human experience without the Cross. Search art, literature, music, philosophy, politics, economics, the sciences and you can find those who never mention God. Yet, all these areas of humanity's collective soul will also reference God. Depending on the time period and the speaker, such references may be reverential, blasphemous, religious as in worshiping false gods or reflect agnosticism. To understand the collective human soul, one must simply analyze human expression in all its variations.

On an individual level, our soul is shaped by nature and nurture in ways we may partially understand, but my observations are that most of us understand very little. We live an uneasy peace with our own soul. One thing I have noticed among Americans, the condition of the soul and discussions both from and about the soul's phenomena are often reduced to basic recounting of what it is we think motivates us. Our relationships are tied around labeling love of something outside of self and are thus built from an identified mutuality: "You love sardines!! I do, too!" Finding others who like what we like and joining together to share in that soulish experience would appear to be the chief end of humans. Sometimes, this mutuality takes on high-stakes consequences and appears to be of substantial importance, patriotism or its next of kin, nationalism, for example. In the course of history, I would guess there has rarely been a time when so many defined life simply as a function of the desires known within the soul and the corollary of building relationships on such.

From a secular perspective, life can be seen as centuries of development wherein humanity works first to gain security from and against nature,
then to increase wealth and all the while experience love. I think the driving rationale is a mixing of the exercise of intellect for material ends and simultaneously seeking the longings of our hearts in the process. Art has long been the place where humanity is analyzed and articulated juxtaposed with the progress of man materially. Artistic expression expresses the state of the soul, both individually and communally, within the ever progressive cultural framework of intellectually achieving what the world has to offer of wealth, fame, and glory.

Consider the implications of the two following examples:

Dan Fogelberg wrote a song which was released on his 1985 album, High Country Snows, entitled "The Higher You Climb."

The higher you climb,
The more that you see.
The more that you see,
The less that you know.
The less that you know,
The more that you yearn.
The more that you yearn,
The higher you climb.

The farther you reach,
The more that you touch.
The more that you touch,
The fuller you feel.
The fuller you feel,
The less that you need.
The less that you need,
The farther you reach.

How succinctly he captures the human experience. In the first stanza, he describes our soul's yearning and the impossibility of ever being fully satisfied. This quest for satisfaction is a common human experience of the soul. The second stanza appears to answer the endless yearnings. When one's reach, reaches to others, therein lies the source of the only true satisfaction known in this life. Such connection and its fulfillment reduces our need and its yearning, which extends our reach.
I interpret Fogelberg as intending his words express a nobility which may be found within said quest for satisfaction when one reaches out to others.

Emmilou Harris's "Deeper Well" from her 1995 album, Wrecking Ball, also explores the yearnings idea with an opposite metaphor, a search within the soul sought through personal life experiences.

the sun burned hot, it burned my eyes
burned so hot I thought I'd died
thought I'd died and gone to hell
lookin' for the water from a deeper well

I went to the river but the river was dry
I fell to my knees an I looked to the sky
I looked to the sky and the spring rain fell
I saw the water from a deeper well

well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well

I was ready for love I was ready for the money
ready for the blood and ready for the honey
ready for the winnin', ready for the bell
lookin' for the water from a deeper well

I found some love and I found some money
found that blood would drip from the honey
found I had a thirst that I could not quell
lookin'for the water from a deeper well

well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well

well I did it for kicks and I did it for faith
I did it for lust and I did it for hate
I did it for need and I did it for love
addiction stayed on tight like a glove
so I ran with the moon and I ran with the night
and the three of us were a terrible sight
nipple to the bottle, to the gun, to the cell
to the bottom of a hole of a deeper well

well lookin for the water from a deeper well
well lookin for the water from a deeper well

I rocked with the cradle and I rolled with the rage
I shook those walls and I rattled that cage
I took my trouble down a deadend trail
reachin' out a hand for a holier grail
hey there mama did you carry that load
did you tell your baby 'bout the bend in the road
'bout the rebel yell 'bout the one that fell

lookin' for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well

In the end, we must express a truth that is evident throughout the ages:

The human soul is filled with an unanswerable angst.

The quest to satisfy has been at the root of productivity, philanthropy, altruism, war, and crime. All that is good or bad has been explored. The answer is in the spirit known only through the second birth Jesus describes.


Carey said...

Maybe that's why he said his kingdom is not of this world.

craig v. said...

Here are a few lines from Goethe's Faust (I stumbled accross them while reading The Pursuit of Glory by Tim Blanning):

Two souls, alas, dwell within my breast, and their
Division tears my life in two.
One loves the world, it clutches her, it binds
Itself to her, clinging with furious lust;
The other longs to soar beyond the dust
Into the realm of high ancestral minds.

Carey said...

Goethe's character, Faust, unfortunately chose the "one who loves the world." For that, he paid a hellish price.
May we, by God's grace, follow the other "soul" (what we call the Spirit?) and thereby "soar beyond the dust..."

craig v. said...

Perhaps, but what if the soaring is something only appropriate to God? He wants to know the way God knows. Then both souls could be a kind of idolatry, and we might say both are flesh (in Paul's sense) and not spirit.

ded said...

Carey and Craig, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

The dilemma of the soul is definitely something to be pondered, eh? glad I am not alone in thinking on these things.

I don't think we follow a soul, Carey, but a Spirit. However, since this Spirit created our souls, being in possession of one is not a sin just by that ownership.

Craig, I think you are correct in that both souls are a kind of idolatry. I am so glad you said that!

I submit, we are not to soar like God, but to soar upon His back with Him, when we are in the spirit ourselves.

Josiah said...

I love that Emmy Lou album and that song is among my favorites.
I believe we CAN access the deeper well of Christ, this whole idea floating around among Christians that we are just stuck being sinners who are forgiven doesn't resonate with me. I hear it at church alot. I think souls are meant to be pure even as they are being purified. To live in His purity and to be restored from momentary sins into a deeper understanding of, yes, his forgiveness but also into a greater level of dependence on him for righteousness. And he will be faithful. Goethe's soul could dependently soar on the wind of the Spirit.

If you will bear a longer post...I have been reading along for a while and have been thinking about the soul spirit relationship in the secular realm. Of course God's Spirit is a source of kindness and love providing life to all on earth and bringing those who will to repentance. But can it work the other way. That is to say can an a soul in rebellion gain access to the spirit. Do intellectual and physical discipline sometimes reach into the spirit and gain a power beyond the soul? Could Goethe have soared in his own strength? There is a parable about those who enter but do not pass through the gate.

Josiah said...

Dad looks like we were writing and posting at the same time. Its great to be in agreement with you about soaring on the back of Him. I pray we experience updrafts of the Lord together

Carey said...

The point about idolatry is correct. And it seems we are reaching a consensus that: intellect and physical discipline can never "reach into the spirit to gain power beyond the soul." (Although intelligent and disciplined people would love to think so.)
No, they cannot; they must hitch a ride on the wings of El Shaddai.

craig v. said...

Amen to that! And let me add that though our attempts to be God are nothing short of foolishness, God has become man - the Word became flesh. Merry Christmas everyone and thanks for the joy of your conversation.

Carey said...

Merry Christmas! God is with us.

ded said...

Amen and amen!