Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thinking of One

There’s a line in a chant—it’s hard to call it a song—called ‘Creation’ written by Scots songwriter composer Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band that I’ve found myself strangely drawn to over the course of more than forty years since I first heard it:

‘Our first father, Abraham, whose bosom
Was the unique soul of the humans…’

The reference to Abraham’s ‘bosom’ was one I was familiar with. ‘Abraham’s bosom’ is or was, I thought, a convenient way to refer to the place of the departed, without having to refer to either heaven or hell, since the state of the reposed is technically not one or the other.

Though we say and think people ‘die and go to heaven’ or ‘die and go to hell,’ if the Orthodox Christian view is correct, there is no heaven or hell for us humans until the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment. True, these places or states may exist, for someone, but not yet for us. When we die, our bodies repose or sleep, and our souls, that is, our lives, are held awake and safe by God, but still separated from our corpses and all materiality.

This state of the soul—and I must ask you to forgive my layman’s explanation—is variously referred to as ‘Paradise’ (remembering Christ’s promise to the crucified robber, ‘you shall be with me this day in Paradise’), or Abraham’s bosom (recalling His teaching about the afterlife in the story of Lazarus and the rich man).

Some people believe in the idea of ‘soul sleep’ where the dead are simply unconscious until the day of resurrection, but this view has been condemned by the Church as incompatible with Divine Scripture and Holy Tradition. The saints ‘in heaven’ could not hear our prayer requests if they were sleeping, that’s obvious!

But this line of the chant keeps nagging at me, ‘our first father, Abraham, whose bosom was the unique soul of the humans,’ well, it seems to be saying something that has always been true but which we have all somehow missed. ‘The unique soul of the humans.’ One day this occurred to me: What if there were only one single human soul just as we know there is only one single Spirit, that is God? What would that mean? What would it look like?

C. S. Lewis has hinted at this in his primer Mere Christianity:

‘In the case of real toy soldiers or statues, if one came to life, it would obviously make no difference to the rest. They are all separate. But human beings are not. They look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then, we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well: and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.’
— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity,
Chapter 27, ‘The Obstinate Toy Soldiers’

I admit, this passage of Mere Christianity also intrigued me as a truth that has somehow eluded us. It was not difficult to see from what I took to be Lewis’ metaphor that humanity is, as he calls it, a ‘mass,’ but there the idea stopped. It must just be a poetical and somewhat graphic way to indicate the general and well-known truth that all humans are related to each other, we are social animals, not mere individuals. This, it seemed to me, was his point, and one well taken, because the foremost heresy of our age is nothing to do with the nature of God, but everything to do with the nature of the human being. It is now an axiom not to be challenged or doubted that the individual is all important and, unless there still is a God, the most worthy of all worship.

But the ‘human mass’ as Lewis calls it, what if this is the ‘unique soul of the humans’? What if there is only a single soul, a single unitary life (for that is what ‘soul’ means) that is human with the same utter singularity that pertains to the Spirit who we call ‘God’?

The entire human population, including the terminated unborn, from the first-created (shall we call them ‘Adam and Eve’?) until this very moment—an incredible number, uncountable—can they, can we, all be simply experiences of that unique Soul? (I want to capitalize ‘Soul’ at this point, because I believe when there is only one of something and always will be, it deserves this sign of respect.)

By this, I do not mean something akin to robotic extensions that have no being of their own. No, what I am hinting at is that the unique Soul of the humans, is a single Life that is shared by innumerable ‘persons’ that all have meaning, value, personal existence, and immortality, none of which are lost by being ‘One in essence and undivided.’ All this being, by the grace of God, His image impressed on the created medium, even, no, especially, His life as a society of ‘Persons’ in the Holy Triad.

If the human race is indeed made ‘in the likeness and image’ of God who, though One, speaks of Himself as ‘We’ (yes, I know it is said to be nothing more than the plural of majesty), what if He in fact as well as act created us as a single Soul to be expressed throughout the dimension of time as a multiplicity of persons?

Holy and divine scripture says, ‘God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27 JB).

If humanity were a single, unaging, and immortal created person, invisible to us because we are too close to see ourselves as him, time being a dimensional obstacle to that experience, that might explain and even harmonize many ideas and beliefs we hold about both man and God.

The foremost of these in my mind is what is really indicated by the scriptural term ‘Body of Christ’ as applied to the Church, and of Jesus Christ as the unique ‘Head’ of that Body. It also interprets and shows what is meant by ‘the Bride of Christ.’ And it doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond the borders of doctrinal Christianity.

The Jewish faith out of which Christianity emerges also acquires deeper significance if there is in fact as well as act a ‘unique Soul of the humans.’ There is the Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalah. Now, he is more than just a symbol of the primordial Man: he is that Man himself.

The bodily resurrection of the dead, believed by all Abrahamic faiths, if there is a ‘unique Soul of the humans,’ acquires a rational basis: The Soul expresses himself in his innumerable bodies so to experience all human possibilities, and afterwards, sums up his life in the resurrection of every person he ever was. The judgment? Yes, that too. As his mortal wounds are healed in immortality, his scabs fall off of their own accord. And it doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond the borders even of Abrahamic faiths.

What about reincarnation? Yes, what about it? We don’t have to argue it or explain it away. There is only one ‘unique Soul of the humans.’ From some visionary angles it appears to be reincarnation, because the Soul reiterates himself forever. ‘For beyond time he dwells in these bodies, though these bodies have an end in their time; but he remains immeasurable, immortal’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:18). Yes, there are the Two—Brahman and Atman, Divine Spirit and Human Soul, Bridegroom and Bride.

Why else does it seem to the human being in love with God that there is no one else in the world for him but his Lover, and his Lover loves him and sacrifices Himself for him as though he were the only human being that ever was made?

‘Let us make man in Our image.’ Yes, as holy apostle Peter writes, ‘Even the angels long to look into these things’ (1 Peter 1:12).


Jim Swindle said...

My brother, you speak of things that are clear and things that are speculative, and it makes me uneasy lest you be swept away into the darkness of pantheistic deceptions. It's fine to wonder about these things, but we must realize that salvation is only in Jesus the Christ, and that the Bible says it's appointed unto man to die once, and after that, the judgment. Thus, reincarnation does not fit. Cling to the clear light that you have believed and proclaimed.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Jim, I know very well what pantheism is, and also reincarnation. If you are reading into my words that I am verging on either, then you misread me completely.

As for my speculations on reincarnation, that's all they are, speculations, and not speculations about how reincarnation might be true, but only how it might look true. Bottom line is, aside from the idea of a 'unique soul of the humans', which is itself still only a way of imaging humanity as a creation of God, I never have and never will believe in transmigration of souls.

There is only one life per human being. One aspect of our being made in the image which is very easy to grasp is expressed in a nutshell, "Just as there is only One God, there is only one of each of us, made in His image. There will never be another you."

What I am writing here would be speculation if I claimed it to be the truth or the true nature of things, and especially if it changed anything about the Christian faith. But it isn't speculation. It is only a way of looking at the plan of salvation that can help us understand better what others are saying, and perhaps show them why things look like they do from their angle.

Reincarnation is only one of these ideas. If, in fact, there is a 'unique soul of the humans,' then it's possible that people who claim to remember past lives are simply in some rare manner able to 'see' the experience of other humans, since all human lives are united somehow in the unique soul.

Finally, this essay was not written to open controversy, but simply as an expression of my lifelong meditation on the mystery of Unity in Trinity (God's nature) and unity in multiplicity (human nature). Christ's prayer to the Father that 'they all may be one as you and I are One' is significant and perhaps even ultimately significant as it pertains to the very meaning of salvation.

Thanks, brother, as always, for reading my blog and cutting me as much slack as you can, and all your words, even the warnings, are accepted as truth spoken in love.

Jim Swindle said...

Romanós, I'm encouraged by your response...not by the pain I caused, but by the vigor and the precision of your clarification. May the Lord preserve us, firm in the truth, until he returns.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Amen, may He preserve us in the Truth! Thank you, brother!