The fight, political ads say, is “for the soul of America”. I wondered what exactly that meant:not the fight, but the “soul”. The “fight” is visible everywhere in protest movements and campaigns, literature and social media. But “soul” is far less easily defined; the use of the term itself evokes a last grasp for some transcendence of the reality we have fashioned. Ours is a world grounded in the scientific, in data and digital expression, in immediate gratification and measurable results. On the other hand, Merriam-Webster .com describes “soul” as immaterial essence, animating principle, a central cause or, secondarily, a spiritual principle embodied in human beings…or in the universe. The very use of the term provides an intimation that the America we see, we live in, is only a glimpse of who we really are. In that way, “soul” invites us to consider what are the principles that animate our lives, our country. “Soul” invites us to believe that there is more to us than the rigor of law or the nature of failure or even the violent bitterness that characterizes public discourse at this time. And in a very real way, that word enables us to go below the surface, to look beyond the diatribes, and to begin taking critical steps. “Soul” represents the possibility of discovering that well beyond the physical and material boundaries of race and gender, sexuality and income inequality rests a reality that actually binds us one closer to the next. It literally means that “soul” is the one thing that might actually be shared, that can be discovered, explored and adhered to.
The term asks that we look not at what divides us, but at what is easily recognizable: a shared life within, a sense of principles and purpose. It is accepting that there is an “innermost aspect” of human beings that is of great value (www.catholic.com) That belief has animated Catholicism for centuries; it has been a reassuring foundation for dealing with the flawed nature of humans, the challenges of living in the physical world, the conflicts and controversies that erupt with disturbing frequency. It is a promise that the spark of the divine is alive in each of us somehow, and that those tiny flames illuminate the darkness of discrimination and divisions. It is a reminder that hope is eternal and choices can adhere to and honor and challenge long-held principles and ideas. It is a signal that there is more to the world, to the person than what is seen and judged. And so it is a reminder that there is a something far greater than self in this life. For me, Catholicism was always a reassurance that the human family is a broad and diverse, beloved and becoming; the concept of the soul simply affirmed a oneness of shared humanity.
Perhaps “soul” exists as conjecture. But in so many ways, political use of the term postulates that there is, in fact, something beyond the tangible in human existence. The call to a common soul is not a call simply for America. It is a chance to recognize that there is, in fact, a spiritual dimension to life that merits 21st century exploration.