Recently, a colleague asked if he could take a picture with me. I said sure, but had no clue as to why. The request seemed a bit out of place. As the picture was snapped, my colleague said one of his parishioners had a traditional image of a priest. Obviously he wasn’t fulfilling that parishioner’s expectations. He told me he’s going to show them my picture and tell them, “Well it could be worse, Gil could be your priest.”
I’m not sure how to feel about that? But, I’m going to take it as a compliment, I guess. Of course we all know that outward appearances are not the measure of the inner being. It feels so cliché to even write that sentence. Then, I have to ask, so what is my outward appearance? Is it what you see with your eyes? Or could it be how I appear to your soul, consciously or most likely unconsciously? I think I would rather trust my soul to communicate with your soul. Then there’s nothing lost in translation. Whatever happens at that level probably falls into the realm of something like God looking “on the heart.”
I’ve learned a bit about this seeing what’s in the heart stuff by spending the last sixty years trying to figure out how to listen to my sister. She has Prader-Willi Syndrome, the deformity of Chromosome-15, which leaves her mentally and physically handicapped. She also has great difficultly speaking. Even under the best circumstances, understanding what she is trying to say is a challenge. If we relied on her outward appearance and ability to tell us what she was thinking and feeling—we would be at a total loss and cut off from her life and reality. To know my sister is to learning how to see her heart, her inner being. To listen to her silence. To let her outward appearance speak the powerful words of her heart.
Bill Plotkin’s book Soulcraft: Crossing into the Myteries of Nature and Psyche is a good resource for how to do the difficult work of soul making, which includes deep soul listening. Plotkin challenges us to dive into the dark depths of soulcraft. The dark place, he says, is the inner world where the light rarely shines, the place where we encounter our ego, self, and soul. Here, Plotkin says, is where we can begin to see who we really are. In getting a true portrait of our self, we can then begin to integrate our disparate fractured outward appearances into our inner self, the soul. I think Plotkin struggles in his attempt to write about the soul. But in all honesty, if you don’t struggle publicly about how to articulate the subtleties of the unseen soul, then you’re probably not being honest with the reader. I also don’t like a few of his metaphors. I think he tried to slide around Carl Jung’s work with Sol and Luna and by doing so, confused the alchemist work of ascending and descending. But, aside from those few issues, Plotkin provided me with some very practical methods of doing soulcraft; something I am constantly striving to do in order to listen to the silent soul of my companions, especially my sister. For that I recommend his book.
Sorry, I can’t get that moment I had my picture taken out of my head; me being the worse image of a priest. I wonder if my soul images have long hair? Maybe they wear jewelry? Must be the bare feet. Of course, that’s it—no shoes, no collar, no Eucharist.