The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on spirituality continues with an excerpt from An Authentic Life: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Everyday Life by Australian broadcast journalist, writer, and Catholic convert Caroline Jones.
To consider soul and the spiritual life only in ethereal or rarefied terms is to follow a false trail. A delicate birch tree with slim white trunk and leaves silvered by the breeze could suggest a touching image of the soul. But it is only half the story. That tree is able to enchant you with its slender beauty only because its roots are anchored in the earth, invisible in darkness, searching out water and nutrient in the richness of decaying matter, fertilized by manure and mulch, aerated by earthworms. The tree may grow and bloom and make a home for nesting birds and expire life-giving oxygen into the air, but only for as long as it is supported by its roots.
Similarly, to live with care for the soul is not to live carefree and unencumbered in a sort of spiritual haze, with your eyes cast heavenwards. More likely it means to live with heightened sensibility and a readiness to roll up your sleeves and commit the very essence of yourself to making a difference in the awkward messiness of everyday life. This will open you to encounter darkness as well as light in yourself and in the world; and to empathise with suffering, as you travel the road to that self-knowledge and self-acceptance which are the foundation of soul. Thomas Moore warns that to care for the soul is not to solve the puzzle of life. On the contrary, it is to deepen your appreciation of the paradoxical mystery of life and to find a way to live in the paradox rather than be destroyed by its contradictions.
The powerful conditioning of the contemporary western world makes this difficult for it seeks to persuade us that the only goal of life is the pursuit of happiness. We are taught to love the light, the surface of things, daytime, summer, fun and talk, but they are only half of our human condition. They are incomplete without the twinning of darkness, roots, the inner, night, winter, suffering and silence. If we are to know the essence of ourselves, the contrasts must be allowed to encounter each other, to enrich each other, to have their rightful time and place, to serve their purpose.
It may be that we love our gardens and our bushwalks because, without a word, they remind us of the natural cycle of life and death, and our place in it. Nature shows us the ravages of fire in the forest and also the new green sprig shooting from a blackened stump. She shows us mushrooms springing from cowpats, ferns that sprout from fissures in sheer rock. In great trees, she shows us the success of endurance, through all seasons, which comes of transforming everything, patiently, into growth; of drawing deeply for life on the subterranean darkness.
Excerpted from An Authentic Life: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Everyday Life by Caroline Jones (Second Edition: ABC Books, 2005).
For more of Caroline Jones’ insights, see the previous Wild Reed post, Learning from the East.
Image: “Tree Scape” by Dan Raphael.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality: Zainab Salbi
In the Garden of Spirituality: Daniel Helminiak
In the Garden of Spirituality: Rod Cameron
In the Garden of Spirituality: Paul Collins
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Chittister
In the Garden of Spirituality: Toby Johnson
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Timmerman
In the Garden of Spirituality: Uta Ranke-Heinemanm