Care of soul

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In the modern world we tend to separate psychology from religion. We like to think that emotional problems have to do with the family, childhood, and trauma — with personal life but not with spirituality. We don’t diagnose an emotional seizure as “loss of religious sensibility” or “lack of spiritual awareness.” Yet the soul — the seat of our deepest emotions — can benefit greatly from the gifts of a vivid spiritual life, and can suffer when it is deprived of them.
The soul, for example, needs an articulated world-view, a carefully worked-out scheme of values and a sense of relatedness to the whole. It needs a myth of immortality and an attitude toward death. It also thrives on spirituality that is not so transcendent-such as the spirit of family, arising from traditions and values that have been part of the family for generations.
Spirituality doesn’t arrive fully formed without effort. Religions around the world demonstrate that spiritual fife requires constant attention and a subtle, often beautiful technology by which spiritual principles and understandings are kept alive. For good reason we go to church, temple, or mosque regularly and at appointed times: it’s easy for consciousness to become lodged in the material world and to forget the spiritual.
Just as the mind digests ideas and produces intelligence, the soul feeds on life and digests it, creating wisdom and character out of experience. Renaissance Neoplatonists said that the outer world serves as a means of deep spirituality and that the transformation of ordinary experience into the stuff of soul is all-important. If the link between life experience and deep imagination is inadequate, then we are left with a division between life and soul, and such a division will always manifest itself in symptoms.
Professional psychology has created a catalog of disorders, known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, which is used by doctors and insurance companies to help diagnose and standardize problems of emotional life and behavior with precision. For example, in the current edition, there is a category called “adjustment disorders.” The problem is that adjusting to life, while perhaps sane to all outward appearances, may sometimes be detrimental to the soul.
One day I would like to make up my own DSM, in which I would include the diagnosis “psychological modernism,” an uncritical acceptance of values of modern world. It includes blind faith in technology, inordinate attachment to material gadgets and conveniences, uncritical acceptance of the march of scientific progress, devotion to electronic media, and lifestyle dictated by advertising. This orientation toward life also tends toward a medianistic and rationalistic understanding of matters of
the heart.
An appreciation for vernacular spirituality is important because, without it, our idealization of the holy-making it precious and too removed from life-can actually obstruct a genuine sensitivity to what is sacred. Church-going can become a mere aesthetic experience or, psychologically, even a defense against the power of the holy. Formal religion, so powerful and influential in the establishment of values and principles, always lies on a cusp between the divine and the demonic.
Religion is never neutral. It justifies and inflames the emotions of a holy war, and it fosters profound guilt about love and sex. The Latin word sacer, the root of sacred, means both “holy” and “taboo,” so dose is the relationship between the holy and the forbidden. We have no idea yet of the positive contribution that could be made to us individually and socially by a more soulful religion and theology.

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