The intellect works with reason, logic, analysis, research, equations, and pros and cons. But the soul practices a different kind of math and logic. It presents images that are not immediately intelligible to the reasoning mind. It insinuates, offers fleeting impressions, persuades more with desire than with reasonableness. In order to tap the soul’s power, one has to be conversant with its style, and watchful. The soul’s indications are many, but they are usually extremely subtle. (Thomas Moore, in Care for the Soul, p. 122.)
Somewhere along the way, especially in the 20th century, most of us in the western world have all but forgotten the language of the soul. It has not been a willful abandonment, but rather a withering on the vine because of lack of use. It has been replaced by a language of the intellect that was better suited for the optimism of modernity. And unfortunately this loss has even affected people of faith who have often posed as the primary teachers of soul language. This is a tragedy that does not bode well for our future. So we would do well to relearn the language of the soul.
I will use a personal analogy to illustrate how recovery of a “nearly lost” language can happen. Before I went to school my primary language in the home was Low German. My father was adamant that his children should not forget their “mother tongue.” When my older siblings returned from school with English on their lips, he insisted that they switch back immediately to their native Low German. Eventually, however, as more of us spent our days in English schools, my father began losing his valiant battle.
After about fifteen years of schooling in English and five years of teaching in that language, Low German was becoming for me only a distant memory. Had it not been for an intervention of sorts, I think by now I would not be conversant in my mother tongue. In 1973, Ruth and I accepted a mission assignment in rural Bolivia. Although we worked primarily with Spanish-speaking Bolivians, we also related to Mennonites living on the colony next door. We even discovered some distant relatives among them. The only problem was that their language of discourse was primarily Low German.
Nevertheless, we determined to acquaint ourselves with our neighbors. When we went to see our long-lost relatives they were eager to talk – in Low German of course. And we could draw up enough Low German capital from our reservoirs of the past to begin a dialogue. I soon discovered, however, that conversing in Low German was hard work. Since my mind processed information in English I found myself silently translating everything I heard and said – a process that left me exhausted after a few hours of visiting. It was many months later, when I once again had learned to think in Low German, that I felt like I had recovered the mother tongue I had nearly lost. Some of my siblings who didn’t have such an experience are sometimes dismayed at how fluent I now am in the mother tongue they have all but forgotten.
And so it is with our collective and personal ability to converse in the language of the soul. It has not been a deliberate attempt to forget – rather a gradual merging into the language of a society more enamoured with mind than soul. And it has been particularly disconcerting for me to discover, in retrospect, that the language and logic of the fundamentalist movement within which I was raised had been particularly ready to embrace the language of the intellect. To be a true Christian one had to affirm a specific set of propositional statements held together by its own internal logic and which allowed for definitive conclusions on all matters pertaining to faith and life. To ask questions of such foundations was considered tantamount to heresy.
To be fair, the revivalistic nature of the brand of fundamentalism I was first exposed to did emphasize the need for a relationship with Jesus. By itself, you might say, that required the use of soul language. But gradually I discovered that in order to be on the safe side that relationship had to be bounded on all sides by the reasoned conclusions that had been laid out by spiritual giants of the past. To allow one’s soul to speak outside of these bounds was quickly met with resistance and warnings of dire consequences. So while soul language was not entirely absent, it was confined and stunted. It should not surprise us that because of such restrictions many simply abandoned ship. Some jettisoned faith altogether, at least as expressed by the church. Others moved on to other places that gave more credence to soul language. I know many of these people – some of them by heart.
And the many who stayed simply continued to get by somehow without a fluency in their “mother tongue”- the language of the soul. Ironically, it is often our leaders who are least familiar with this language. Perhaps that is the case because they feel a responsibility to keep their people safe. And the best way to do that, in their minds, is to rehearse regularly the logical, well-researched equations that invariably lead to water-tight conclusions easily transferable onto their people. Sometimes such rehearsals even smack of bullying, although most often only on a subliminal level. “I have figured this out and am presenting the last word on the subject. Don’t you dare ask questions that could play havoc with the formulas I am using.” Sensitive, soul-conscious people often experience this as a “baring of the teeth” that causes them to turn away.
Yet I am encouraged by the many people I meet who are in the process of rediscovering the language of their souls. They are not prepared to abandon the use of their minds, but are ready to listen to the nuanced messages emanating from their souls. They have the courage to step into mystery that leaves some questions unanswered. They are becoming more familiar with the language of desire, intuition, undertones and quietness. They are beginning to exercise soul language. Hallelujah!