Saturday, March 26, 2011

Where is the Soul 10?


Bare-limbed tree, TCD, Sat, 19 March 2011
Where is the Soul?  That is the question with which I have entitled these last ten or so posts.  It is a question that has long intrigued me.  A few days back I received the news of the tragic death by suicide of a recent past pupil who shall remain anonymous here.  He was a student with us for about two years or so, and had changed school because of discipline problems in his previous school.  A quick Googling of his name gave me the funeral arrangements where I learned that he was mourned by parents, grandparents (he was around 22 years of age), his partner and young child.  Subsequently, I learned from some of his friends that baby number two was on the way.  The Internet also threw up a sad post by this young man to a chat forum on the BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) website seeking anger management counselling.  Where is the soul in all that tragic mess? 

Also a former acting Deputy Principal of our school recently gave a lovely valedictory retirement speech (he's only just 50) mentioning the fact that he had to get things in order for his wife and family, given that his cancer has now returned in two new tumors, even though he has had a hemipelvectomy for which he had to travel to London.  His was a complete hemipelvectomy, that is, the amputation of half of the pelvis and the leg on his left side. This type of procedure is also called transpelvic amputation.  That's the clinical details, but where oh where is the soul in all that?  In my fifth year mathematics class there are two young teenagers, barely seventeen years of age who have recently lost their fathers - only 44 and 53 respectively - one to cancer, the other to haemorrhage from an aneurysm.   Another young man in the same class is the father of a child to be born shortly and his own father has long deserted both him and his mother.  Where, oh where is the soul in all this?

Insights from a Poet

Now while this entry to this blog this Saturday evening is in no way religious, it is always spiritual in the most general meaning of that word.  In the last 13 years or so of my life I subscribe to one of the sayings from Alcoholics Anonymous that "Religion is for those who fear Hell while Spirituality is for those who have been there!"  There is a lot of wisdom in that aphorism.  I wish here to quote a poem in full from the pen of the great religious poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins.  This poem is called God's Grandeur:

God’s Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

In a sense this poem could be retitled "Soul's Grandeur," I feel, since I found Spirituality instead of Religion.  Anyway, the debate between Spirituality and Religion is for another day and for many posts on that very interesting topic.  The reason why I am retitling Gerard Manley Hopkins' wonderful poem is quite simply to answer my question as to where the soul might be found.  Certain words from the above poem which have kept rattling around in my mind for years are the following:

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Commuter train passes thro' Clontarf Station, 19/03/2011
Life is often messy despite our human penchant for putting order on it.  We have been treading the soil of Mother Gaia for millions upon millions of years.  We have had many myths over that time to support us on onward progress and evolution.  But in that progress and evolution so much, so very much has had to die off and disappear so that we moderns could eventually come on the scene.  There are a lot of waste materials left in the wake of progress and evolution.  A lot of forgotten species and not-so-forgotten species have left the face of the earth over those years.  We have also mentioned so many times in these pages that our many myths, whether religious or scientific or literary or poetic, are just that sustaining myths that last for a certain time before being replaced by new and more appropriate ones.  That's why these words of Gerard Manley Hopkins appeal to me.  For millions upon millions of years we humans "have trod, have trod, have trod" and indeed over all those years all those inventions and all those technologies of all the various kinds have come to the fore, but so many of them have been destructive of humankind itself, and so "all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell."  Life is a messy as well as an ordered business.  There always must be room for Mess or Chaos!

Then, Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us that we have become very much alienated from our origins in that very soil.  In the words of the Irish Gaelic File, Máirtín Ó Díreáin we have become "diphréamhaithe" or "uprooted" from the soil.  That's why these words from Hopkins rattle around continually in my mind: "the soil/Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod."

The answer to my question as to where the soul can be found is quite simply: in everything.  The soul is to be found out there in the world at large, in all our encounters with this or that event of life; with this or that technology; with this or that person; with or in this or that disease; with this or that fight; with this or that disagreement or argument; in this or that war; in this or that birth; in this or that dying; in this or that death and in the maternity wards as well as in the mortuaries of modern hospitals.  The Soul of Humankind is that very truth at its core which will not allow it to believe in half-truths or in light-weight fairy stories or light-weight myths.  No the Soul of Humankind will have humanity swallow the Whole Truth of its condition not Partial Truths.  Partial Truths are worse indeed that lies because they wear the masks of truth - they are mere pretend truths or imposters and so are very destructive.  The Soul will out just like The Truth will Out!  The Truth needs to be the Whole Truth not a mere Partial Truth.  Likewise the Soul needs to be a full Soul not a partial one.

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