Lure of Life
There are some old friends to whom I like to return from time to time. Some of my old friends are books. Some of these books were written centuries ago, so obviously I personally know the author. One such book is the Confessions by Augustine---or St. Augustine as he rightly is called. He wrote this magnificent theological autobiography in the late fourth century. People of faith have been reading it for more than a thousand years.
Other friends are living people. One such friend is Alan Jones. I have many of Jones’ books, but the one that still speaks most powerfully to me is his book, Soul Making. Alan was a seminary professor when I first met him. Although born in England, he had already come to this country and was teaching at the Episcopal seminary in New York when we had initial contact. From there he went to San Francisco where he became Dean of the Cathedral in that city by the bay.
I loved the title of soul making and, I’m sure, that is what initially led me to buy it. While it is a great title, I knew it was more than a title of a book. Soul making is a process by which all of us are made human. For Jones and me soul making is inevitably a spiritual process, as well as psychological. Surely many people become human without any nod toward spirituality, but Jones and I would contend we are not fully human until we are also spiritual.
I had occasion recently to read again the last chapter of that book. I’ll share some thoughts from a paragraph that remind me how significant God and the spiritual is for my understanding of how souls are made. The first sentence I share demonstrates both the serious nature of the work of making souls and shows the touch of humor that I always find when talking to or reading Jones. He says, “The dominant lure of life is towards the ‘We’ and we may thank God for our neuroses in that they are, at least, signs that are cracks and crevices in the egocentric shell we build around us.” (187)
I like to think that life has a lure. In fact there probably are multiple lures in our lives. There are lures of family, jobs, etc. That why we often feel pulled in different directions. Sometimes we are in tension between what we want to do and what others want us to do. So when Jones talks about a “dominant” lure, that makes sense to me. I am not sure most of us know the dominant lure. Perhaps the dominant lure is whatever we want it to be. But I would agree with Jones that the dominate lure is that which comes from God. Every other lure is secondary, even if it is important.
Jones is correct when he acknowledges the dominant lure of life is plural---toward the “We,” as he calls it. This simply means that life finally is communal---it is about community. Life is not some lonely existence passing from birth to our inevitable death. Authentic life is always life together. This may not make too much sense in our individualistic, autonomous lives most of us live.
Jones is at his orneriest best when he opines that our neuroses are signs that real life---the life of the “We”---is trying to break through. He sees the egoistic self we build as we go through life actually can be the problem. The ego is “me.” It is my life, my agenda, my---everything. When the “We” becomes only a concern for me, then I am in trouble and may not even know it. It is too easy to move from ego to egocentric---from me to being totally me-centered. If we live this kind of egocentric life, then we are in some way being crazy---neurotic.
Jones comes in again when he says, “That is why our falling apart can be a sign of God’s work in us. It is the beginning of the process of benign disintegration…the ‘We’ is the real frame of our life. Rightly, he says, our egocentric life will need to disintegrate---the ego has to cease being in center or whole of our lives. He continues, to refuse disintegration “means entering into a terrible place of lostness, where the ego is all there is. This is hell: the ego is mistaken in the belief that it is the fount and origin of everything…
This seems so true for me, which is why I share it. I do believe if we stay with our egocentric agenda, we ultimately will be in a terrible place of lostness. If we are egocentric, there is no real room for God or anyone else, except that they serve our sorry soul. There is no compassion, no understanding. Egocentricism works well when we are strong, healthy and independent. But when things go south, we find we need and desire others---God and friends.
The essence of soul work is to recognize this earlier in our lives and doing the “soul work” to grow into healing, healthy places. We can ask ourselves whether we are living an egocentric life or are we cultivating a “We” perspective? It does not mean you have to be a failure or a wimp to be spiritual. But it does mean you are not god. Even if you see yourself as god, no one else does.
Soul work means I recognize the God who is and know that I am a beloved child of God. And I am part of the beloved community---the “We” of God’s children. And I am glad.