Some books I continue to return to in order to get a spiritual reminder or a spiritual boost. One of those books is my friend Alan Jones’ book, Soul Making. I find reading Jones a challenge, but always rewarding. However, I also know that when I assign that book in one of my spirituality classes, the students seldom like it! That usually makes me a little sad. It is as if the students reject a little part of me.
I think Jones’ book is so important to me because it came at a time when I was in a significant spiritual growth phase. Simultaneously, I was also trying to figure out whether I could teach spirituality and, if so, how I would do it. The idea of “soul making" was an eye-opener for me. Growing up in a fairly rural Quaker meeting (church), I had only heard that language that affirmed people “had” souls. Of course, at death the soul left the body and for many folks, the soul is what went to heaven.
I never thought much about that. When you hear stuff like that as a kid, you usually take it at face value. At least I did. So I assumed I “had” a soul. But then in college I was asked to read classic authors and to learn to think, analyze and make up my own mind. I still see that as a very healthy process. I know religious fundamentalists do not see it as healthy; in fact, that is a threat. But I am not a religious fundamentalist, so I am ok with thinking, analyzing and still making up my own mind.
So I read Alan Jones and others who suggested that we “are” souls. I began to see my soul more as an animating spirit. I learned the language of soul is closely related to the idea of spirit. Spirit is like wind or breath. It was easy to connect soul to breath. If I quite breathing, I “lose” my soul. That does not necessarily mean my soul “dies.” But it does mean when I quit breathing, my soul (my spirit) transforms---that is, it takes on another form. When I die, I no longer will be an embodied soul, as I am now.
But I do not want to talk about death. Instead I want to talk about love and life and how those connect to soul. It is here that I latch onto one of my favorite lines from Jones’ book, Soul Making. He says, “Love is a gift or it is nothing. Insofar as we are able to reject strategies of possessiveness and manipulation, the conditions are already set for the development of real soul making, real loving.” I find sentences like that riveting. It speaks of a truth deeper than I think I have yet known, but to which I am drawn.
For a long time, I have been convinced that life and love go together---real life at least. I am sure you can live without love, but it is not real life. And as much as it chagrins me, I am confident that Jones is correct: love is a gift. For some of us, this is fearful. It causes us to fear because we are afraid we won’t be given the gift. And if we happen to have been given the gift of love, we are tempted to hoard it out of fear that we will never be given any more. We see love as a scarce commodity.
But it’s not like that. Love is a gift and the Giver offers it lavishly. The Holy One deals with an abundance strategy, not a scarcity model. But some of us find this hard to believe---that is, we have little faith. So we are tempted to manipulate our situations to create or compel love. Jones is quite right to advise us to reject such strategies of manipulation and coercion. I really can’t compel you to love me. I can try and you may have to fake it. But genuine love is a gift. I can only receive and say “thanks.”
I like how Jones links real soul making and real loving. Again that seems deeply true to me in ways I probably cannot articulate. And I can add that real soul making and real loving amount to real living. That is what the whole spiritual journey is about as far as I am concerned. I am on that journey. I am very content to call it soul making.
I am happy to call this soul making cardiac development. Of course, I am playing around with the word for “heart.” Soul making is nothing more than the development of my heart---its enlargement, softening and deepening. A heart developing in this fashion not only becomes more and more a loving heart. It becomes a compassionate heart. When this happens, we rightly begin to talk about that person as a person “with a heart for the world.” That is a big heart!
I am sure that a big-hearted person is a deeply soulful person. This kind of person would be so soulful that it would be evident when you come into the presence of that person. Their being would exude soulfulness. They would reek of the Spirit’s scent. Just being with them makes you feel better and more well.
That kind of person models the soul making process. Somehow they have done real soul making. I am sure it is coming to know the gift of love, accepting it and incarnating it in such a way they become ambassadors of the Spirit in our world.