"Say it with me class, 'I am a spirit. I have a soul, and I live in a body.’"
Christian school taught me that the essence of my personhood was a disembodied spirit-man that was (unfortunately) attached to a body for a certain amount of time until I died (which I probably wouldn’t have to do because Jesus was coming back soon).
I wasn’t exactly sure what the soul was other than my brain or maybe some ghostly part of my brain or something…? I wasn't sure how my brain was supposed to be altogether different from my body or my spirit from my soul, but the essential point was that there was a difference between me and my body. My body was something I had to war with. Either I would be its slave or its master.
This fragmented view of myself stemmed from a fragmented view of reality as a whole. Reality was essentially dualistic--there was the ‘natural' world and the ‘supernatural' world. The natural world was the realm you could access with your physical senses. The supernatural or spiritual world was one you could access only with your spirit or perhaps your soul.
This dualism is, in my opinion, what is responsible for ideas like 'Christian music' and TV preachers who sell miracle oil to old ladies. We could find portals into the supernatural world through faith—escaping the wanton world of the flesh and moving towards the purity and righteousness of our spirits. (Gnosticism 101 for midwestern American children)
At some point in my journey, I began to ask questions about the seams and divisions between these realities.
I began to consider the worldview of people who thought differently about reality. People who made a pretty good case that there was no reason to believe in any other ‘realm' of reality because there was no real evidence that such a realm exists. All of that was just fairy tales and magic. I began to wonder—was this belief just a crutch? A fear of death and mortality that was simply evidence of the ego of mankind and our desire to be special? Perhaps there was not multiple realms or realities like my Christian school taught, and instead just the one reality that was the universe.
I decided I liked that story better for a little while. Made more sense to me. Especially after seeing behind the curtain of the oil salesman.
But in living with that view of reality for a little while, there seemed to be something missing. There were parts of reality and my experiences that felt like ‘more’ than just random atoms fumbling around. So I began to take another look at the magic of my childhood and my Christian school, but only this time with a slightly different bend… What if rather rather than one magical realm and one natural realm, there was still only one realm like the naturalists said, only that one realm was magical?
This seemed like a good compromise between the skeptic in my brain and the believer. I should mention that I have come to terms with the fact that in my brain, there are competing thoughts. There is a full blown skeptic and a believer both active in my brain—roommates. They have learned to co-exist. The skeptic in my brain refuses to believe in such a preposterous idea as an immaterial human soul. 'What evidence of such a thing exists?’ he asks. The smiley believer guy in my head points out to the skeptic that his lack of evidence doesn’t prove souls don’t exist, of course. It just means there’s not really any evidence that we can test and prove the existence of something other than material reality either way. The skeptic shakes his head and rolls his eyes, but at least the believer roommate always pays his rent on time and keeps the place relatively clean. Together, they come up with a compromise. There’s only one reality, but that one reality is supernatural, magical, and shimmering with God.
This is not the same view I had as a kid of being a spirit (hallelujah) that has a soul (eh) and lives in a body (ick). Now, there is no need to see the body as somehow less than or separate from the soul or the spirit. And there is certainly no reason to go as far as some religious people do in calling the body depraved or sinful as that would akin to defaming God’s good creation.
At this point I would rephrase my belief in the spirit, soul, body conundrum something more like this:
I am a body.
I am a soul.
I am spirit.
How can I say that I am all of that at once?
That’s what these three albums are going to dive into. Looking at how these three lenses all fade into one another. To give you a sneak peak:
Spirit gives rise to body which gives rise to soul. And soul is the experience of both spirit and body.
Okay, that might sound a little mystical and strange to some of you, but the albums will hopefully clarify more of that as they come out. For now, we are on focused on soul (the first record to be released of the trilogy).
So, what do we really speak of when we speak of soul? Even when I was in Christian school, when we would speak of the ‘immaterial’, I think if we would have been honest with ourselves, we were more concerned with philosophy and perhaps even poetry than we were physics or chemistry. What we really were after was recognizing the mark of divinity in people and not relegating human beings to mere matter and chaos. And insofar as our language was intended to that, I still affirm it. I believe that there is something about the idea and language of a human being a soul that speaks of something more true than by simply saying that a human being is nothing but a collection of physical matter.
There are experiences in the life of a human being that cannot be described with numbers and science. Take sex, for example. Sex can be experienced as a profound and transcendent connection to another person, and to understand the mechanical operations or chemical reactions involved in sex is not the same thing as fully understanding and experiencing the potential mystery and spirituality of human sexuality. Or take music… just because one might know the frequency that middle C vibrates at does not mean that this person is a skilled musician or one who really understands or deeply experiences music. To understand the math or physics of music is not the same thing as knowing music from the subjective ‘inside' of the experience.
In my opinion, the ‘material’ explanations for life do not do justice in explaining or exploring aspects of reality like love and transcendence that seem to be larger than literal language can contain. Poetry does a better job than science in that department.
This is why I think language like ‘soul’, ’supernatural’, or ‘magic' is actually some of the best language we humans have when speaking of the enormity of the subjective human experience. What experience can anybody fully explain down to the bottom of reality anyway? Nobody knows the fullness of how anything works or what it is the way it is. It just is. And that mystery at the bottom of all reality, my friend, is as good of a definition of miracle or magic as I could imagine. Does this mean I would agree with my teacher that humans do in fact have a soul? Well, what I would actually say at this point is not that humans have souls, but that humans are souls.
The sceptic might ask why I would still use that sort of language. After all, doesn’t language like that imply to most people the very seamed reality that I spoke of before? Maybe. But I think we use soul language because that’s the best language we have for certain kinds of experiences and ways of thinking about the sacredness of human life.
It feels just as appropriate and true to me to describe the part of reality that leaves a room when someone dies by saying his or her soul departed as it would be to say that his or her body ceased to function. There’s an essential energy and reality to a person that brain waves and pulse rates don’t fully encompass. When someone you loves dies, there’s a much bigger loss than the changing of numbers on the medical machines. When speaking of the essence of a person, there’s something more honoring and perhaps even more accurate about describing their soul then merely their physicality.
So what is soul exactly? It’s you! It’s the whole mess! It’s the cooperation of the countless cells and systems in your body to keep you living, breathing, and moving. It’s the stories that you have experienced and been a part of others experiencing. It’s relationship. Countless relationships of energy and synapse and contradiction. Soul is personality and passion and quirks and sight. It’s awareness. It’s your specific embodiment of Creativity at work in the universe.
A living human being is more than a slab of meat. She is a sacred soul. A godess. An angel walking the earth. Magical or mythological language isn’t untrue. It’s often truer than true.
One Wild Life: Soul releases today, Friday, August 7. Join us as we begin the journey of considering how we are living this one wild and precious life that we’ve been given, and how we are not just random collections of matter—we are soul.
To celebrate the release of this album, we are announcing a lyric art contest. Over the next week, we want to see art that you have created, in any form or medium, that was inspired by and features your favorite lyrics in One Wild Life: Soul. It can be anything--photography, video, images, painting, etc. Post your creation to social media using the hashtag #OneWildLifeSoul. We will share our favorites and choose a winner, who will receive a deluxe merch package.
We're so excited to see what you create. Deadline for submission will be a week from today (August 14th)