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The soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose… mystery no mind… can ever hope to unravel. It is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, [and] to cleave to His truth… If it be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return unto Him. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 155-156.
If the human soul is that eternal, closest to perfection-like part of ourselves which comes from, reflects, and returns to the Creator, then why would any soul-making, or further development of it, be necessary?
The Baha’i teachings say:
If [the soul] fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths. – Ibid.
Baha’u’llah further explains why such a free choice is even possible to begin with:
The soul is endowed with two wings: should it soar in the atmosphere of love and contentment, then it will be related to the All-Merciful, and should it fly in the atmosphere of self and desire, then it… is known as the concupiscent soul. – Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 154.
This human condition of free will creates a broad context for soul-making, ranging from sacred scripture to literature to psychology. Because we have an interconnected dual nature—simultaneously spiritual and physical—both of which are susceptible to the variations in the external environment and its influences, we each undertake a quest to fulfill our spiritual nature. This quest requires great vigilance and, even more so, guidance from our vast spiritual heritage, which contains many descriptions of the stages of the development of the soul. Thus, Abdu’l-Baha says the “two wings” of the soul also signify “wings of ascent:”
One is the wing of knowledge, the other of faith, as this is the means of the ascent of the human soul to the lofty station of divine perfections. – Baha’i World Faith, p. 382.
This is where the visionary poets and scholars come in. 19th century English poet John Keats wrote:
There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions—but they are not Souls till they acquire identities… How then are Souls to be made? How, but by the medium of a world like this? Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul? Call the world, if you please, ‘the vale of soul-making.’
Keats saw the world we are thrust into, ready or not, as the anvil that shapes and forms a partially made, potential-laden soul. We have a need to learn life by heart–“in a place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways”–and to make the right choices, so we can become that spark of divinity.
Soul-making happens when light merges with dark, when joy and sorrow intermingle, and when the eternal breaks through from the temporal realm. When we experience opposites, and learn their lessons in the classroom of the world, the soul remembers what it came here for and evolves toward its potential. As Thomas Moore said, “The whole world… [is] nothing but the raw material of soul-making.”
Jungian analyst Marion Woodman sees soul-making as:
…constantly confronting the paradox that an eternal being is dwelling in a temporal body. Soul-making is allowing the eternal essence to experience the outer world through all the senses… so the soul grows during its time on Earth…True soul-making comes from that deep communication with what Jung would call the archetypal world… When we connect with our souls, we connect with the soul of every human being… If we believe in a divine order, then everything on the Earth is part of that divine order. We’re all little sparks of One Soul. – Coming Home to Myself, pp. 4, 209.
These reasons, made clearer through the recent insights and discoveries of psychology, support what the Baha’i teachings say:
It is evident, therefore, that man is in need of divine education and inspiration, that the spirit and bounties of God are essential to his development… man must pass from degree to degree of progressive unfoldment until perfection is attained… without progressive and universal education perfection will not be attained… The journey of the soul is necessary. The pathway of life is the road which leads to divine knowledge and attainment. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 295-296.
Life’s difficulties and struggles form the necessary, essential context for soul-making, contributing to meaning-making, pattern shaping, and closing the gap between opposing forces.
Next: Remembrance: the Root of Spiritual Practice