Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Marriage of Spirit and Soul

The Marriage of Spirit and Soul

I was just re-reading psychologist Thomas Moore's book Care of the Soul and his description of religion that isn't just spiritual but also soulful. For him and other students of "archetypal psychology" (a school founded by James Hillman), "soul" is a central part of life and yet is hard to define. Whereas in spirit, "we reach for consciousness, awareness, and the highest values," soul "has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart and personal substance." If spirit wants to go toward every unseen horizon, soul wants to remain in the world and its complexity. Spirit wants to go beyond; soul wants to stay within. Spirit wants transcendence; soul wants immanence. If a spiritual perspective wants to leave all worldliness behind to escape to heaven, soul wants to find heaven on earth and in all the earth's messiness.

In any case, the passage I was reading in Care of the Soul talks about how neither spirit nor soul can work without the other. In fact, they need to be married to each other:

"Spirit tends to shoot off on its own in ambition, fanaticism, fundamentalism, and perfectionism. Soul gets stuck in its soupy moods, impossible relationships, and obsessive preoccupations. For the marriage to take place, each has to learn to appreciate the other and to be affected by the other--spirit's loftiness tempered by the soul's lowly limitations, soul's unconsciousness stirred by ideas and imagination."

In other words, any quest to "go beyond" through spirit needs to be aware of the soulful mess that it leaves in its wake, and any attempt to revel in worldly pleasure needs to be mindful of the larger spiritual context of that pleasure. Transcendence must remember its immanent context, and immanence must remember its transcendent implications. However, this marriage isn't just a metaphor. According to Jungian psychology, spirit and soul have definite masculine and feminine correspondences, respectively. The archetype of spirit is what Jungians call the animus, defined as the archetype of masculine being, whereas soul corresponds to the anima as the archetype of primordial femininity. This association deeper than any superficial definition of gender. In fact, you can read it from human bodies: whereas the man's body is physically stronger and "thrusts out" in more ways than one (transcendence) the woman is more agile and receptive (immanence). Masculinity and femininity as they manifest in the physical world are representations or correspondences of deep metaphysical realities.

In his book Anima: An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, James Hillman talks about the way in which the animus or spirit always appears alongside the anima or soul, and vice versa, whether we like it or not:

"At the very moment of a new psychological move, we hear animus voices, driving us from it by spiritualizing the experience into abstractions, extracting its meaning, carrying it into actions, dogmatizing it into general principles, or using it to prove something. Where anima is vivid, animus enters. Similarly, when at work intellectually, or in spiritual meditation, or where courage is screwed to the sticking place, then anima invades with images and fears, with distractions of attachments and connections, telephoning, natural urges, suicidal despairs, or disturbing with ever deeper questions and puzzling unknowns. Moved by a new idea or spiritual impetus, anima is right there, wanting to make it personal, asking 'How does it relate?' and 'What about me?'

The anima--as soul, relatedness, immanence, the "thick of things"--always appears together with the transcendent animus. You can't separate them even if you tried. When I meditate, for instance, any thought that I have works as way to "transcend" the "givenness" of the "right here, right now" that I want to experience in my meditation. In that way, the effort to still the mind and experience the richness of the present moment is a feminine activity, but as any practiced student of meditation will know, thoughts will always come. The best you can do is to help the thoughts and the immanent context of the thoughts--spirit and soul, animus and anima, respectively--get along. As Thomas Moore pointed out, they need to be married to each other: my thoughts about the given pairing with the given to reconcile the conflict they had before.

This also turns up, in all places, in the reading of scripture. Thomas Moore writes elsewhere in Care of the Soul about the soul or "anima" of sacred texts:

"The infinite inner space of a story, whether from religion or daily life, is its soul. If we deprive sacred stories of their mystery, we are left with the brittle shell of fact, the literalism of a single meaning. But when we allow a story its soul, we can discover our own depths through it....In Jungian language, we could say we need to find the anima in these stories--their living, breathing soul. Bringing soul to a story entails de-moralizing our images, letting them speak for themselves rather than for an ideology that restricts and slants them from the beginning."

I can read the Book of Mormon in one of two ways. The animus-oriented, "spiritual" way looks through the text in order to bring forth a single, pre-determined meaning, but the anima-oriented, "soulful" way lets the text speak for itself in all its messiness. For the animus, there can only be one (transcendent) meaning, but the anima sees the many nuances and overtones in the text. Anima is comfortable with multiplicity, but animus can only rest peacefully in singleness. To put it another way, animus wants a single, definite truth, whereas anima revels in the richness of a text as it is.

Reflecting on this observation, we can ask: how does "baring a testimony" relate to these masculine and feminine archetypes? Is it spiritual or soulful, masculine or feminine? Testimony declares a knowledge of truth, and so in that way it speaks from the "spirit" of a masculine anima. But to the extent that this declaration of truth reflects deep experiences of the heart, it is a spirit that comes from soul. Though a testimony may seem rigid, single, and unwavering, beneath the "transcendence" of its certainty there is a rich, multifaceted matrix of soul. Tom Cheetham once wrote that the function of transcendence is to make immanence liquid, like light," and so the function of a testimony is to let us appreciate the richness of the immanent soul of our Gospel from a removed enough perspective to see it clearly. It's a kind of dance: when I go up to the pulpit to bare my testimony, the spirit takes a step back from the soul to behold her beauty. And then, in the unutterable richness of scripture, a sacrament meeting, or a temple visit, they reunite to consummate their love in the warmth of silence.


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