Saturday 3 December 2011

A Soul's Journey

A Soul's Journey
The soul's journey is also a life's journey that we have all embarked upon by the very act of being born. We each have a life, a life that has been given to us, apparently as a free gift, an act of grace you could say, for we've done nothing to deserve it. We have done nothing to receive the gift of each new day as it comes with all the privileges that it brings, the rich experiences that that we may count as good or bad along with the joys and sorrows of the relationships that we must all share with each other.

We embark on this soul's journey, hopefully a journey that will entail a long life on this earth and we often do not recognise what we have been given. In short, we are often lacking in gratitude as we forget or ignore the injunction to 'count one's blessings' as though counting one's blessings is some sort of superficial throw-away remark rather than key to successful living. To have a grateful heart is an essential requisite for the soul's journey, to live each day as it comes, to take pleasure in the small things as well as the big events, to feel love and compassion even in some of the most hopeless of situations and to know that such sublime goodness comes from the eternal God, the God according to St Paul, is the God ' In whom we live and move and have our being.'

In this soul's journey we begin our earthly lives in a state of innocence, and in the earliest stages we are truly in the Garden of Eden. But the child soon finds the world with all its urgency, its demands, its mores and its attractions. The innocence of infancy our Garden of Eden very quickly becomes closed to us. In the book of Genesis we read how Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden and then at the east of the garden of Eden God placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. The soul's journey I think, is to return to the garden and perhaps we heard an echo of that in the 1970's Woodstock song:

By the time I got to Woodstock
They were half a million strong
Everywhere there was songs and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust, we are golden
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden

Or perhaps as Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The story of the prodigal son is one such parable of a soul's journey a story in which a younger son leaves his father and goes out into the world spending his inheritance in wild living until he becomes destitute and returns home in poverty to his father. The true meaning of the story is of course that the son realises, that the world and all its attractions can not provide the authentic joy of living that we desire at our deepest level, and that this can only be found in returning to the source of our being to God or in this case the Father, who truly loved him and rejoiced at his home coming.

Most of Jesus' teachings were in fact simply about this very important and fundamental matter, about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, it's a state of being that people everywhere, throughout the ages have sought, and have wanted to hear about. Intuitively they have yearned to go beyond the apparent superficiality of their lives in search of a deeper meaning beyond a temporal existence. If we can somehow visualise life in first century Palestine, a primitive world without the benefits of mass literacy and the technology of the modern age and if we can imagine a man like Jesus who can teach, who can provide answers, and can hold people in thrall with the spiritual power of his words. And how those words would strike right at the heart and soul of his listeners, there would be hundreds and sometimes thousands of them pressing on to him as a crowd. Often he would be obliged to preach from the deck of a fishing boat from the Sea of Galilee in order avoid the crush of eager people, straining to hear his words.

His messages were coined in simple terms like the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl of great price so that much so that a merchant, a collector of pearls would sell all he had in order to buy it. 'The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus would say, is within.' How many times did he tell them? How many times did they need to hear it? And how many times do we need to be told? It's really a key question since experiences, ideas and thoughts come, piling into our minds, cascading, each one on top of the other, and the most immediate impression thought supplanting the last one and so on. We can hear the truth, but it can easily be subverted and beguiled by the so called rationalists and by our own pessimistic thought. The resonant words of the great sages can lead us to a deeper truth, their words become pointers on the soul's journey but they are words all too easily forgotten when we get lost once again in the world.

This is the trap that we all fall too easily into, we know the truth we have heard the message, and loved hearing it but all to often we find that the ideas we love to hear become like the seeds exemplified in Jesus' Parable of the Sower: 'Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.'

 I wonder if the question is not so much about the inherent weakness of the human mind but rather a question of focus. In knowing and hearing what is good and true we must ensure that our best ideals become like the seeds that fall on good soil and bring  forth grain, as Jesus would have it, 'some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.'

Good soil and good seed can create a beautiful garden. A beautiful garden with lawns flower beds and perhaps fountains and pools of water. This beautiful garden was only created and obtained though hard labour and thoughtful design, a pleasure to see, to visit and to be in. We can close our eyes now and imagine it. There in this garden of the mind's eye we can hear the birds sing, feel the soft warm breeze of a summer's day, smell the fragrance of the flowers, and perhaps hear a gentle splash as the fish disturb the water with a sudden movement.

The garden is sustained by the work of its keepers; the weeds and the rubbish are kept out and constantly removed. And likewise, so in our minds, the destructive seeds of negativity of cynicism of disbelief we must also constantly weed out ensuring that only the seeds of positive self-development, seeds that can grow to bear out the spiritual truths within the garden of the mind, our own minds are permitted. This garden we seek to build in the mind, this way of being of becoming, is no soft option. Harder than physical labour it requires consistency, discipline and determination to keep heart and mind focussed on the destination of the soul's journey. If we cannot overcome our own selves, if we cannot embody the change we want to see, how can our lives speak for a world we want to see?

It is important to recognise that such change begins at the level of consciousness: our own consciousness. That is why in St Paul's letter to the Romans he wrote: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect." We are being told amongst other things not to indulge in back-biting, gossip, and avarice, or perhaps to face up to life's demands, to become more than what we are, to meet our full potential and in doing so to reap the rich rewards of  our faith, our courage and our labours.