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The words surprised me, especially since they came from Grandma.
“She says she can’t find her soul, and she’s ready for God to take her home,” my mother-in-law told me on the phone, her voice cracking as she spoke through her tears, trying her best to quote Grandma. By “home” Grandma meant heaven. That made sense. Grandma had not been feeling well for days, and after all, she is one month shy of being 102 years old.
But her words, “I can’t find my soul,” puzzled me. She didn’t say she didn’t know where she was going or that she was clueless about who would take her there. No, she was ready for God to take her home to heaven.
Where is the soul, anyway, and why couldn’t Grandma find hers?
For skeptics like Michael Shermer the soul is located in the patterns of information coded in our DNA and neural memories. In his book, The Soul of Science, he states that, “it appears that when we die our pattern is lost.” The soul is the mind and dies when the brain ceases to function: “Either the soul survives death or it does not, and there is no scientific evidence that it does.”
But British scientist Dr. Sam Parnia, in studying heart attack patients, says he is finding evidence that suggests consciousness may continue after the brain has stopped functioning and a patient is clinically dead. Parnia is even conducting research to isolate where in the brain such consciousness is located. Would that be where the soul is?
Although he is by no means a scientist, I wonder if philosophy professor and literary giant, William H. Gass, would agree with Shermer and the scientific skeptics. With his typical piercing intellect, Gass states in his wonderful book of essays, Finding a Form, “I am going to insist that what we sometimes call the soul is simply the immediate source of any speech - the larynx of the logos - a world without words would be a soulless one...”
Grandma may not have known where her soul was, but she knew she had one and that it lives forever; she may have been momentarily confused about its place - was it somewhere in her neural memories? Between heaven and earth? Deep within herself, in whatever gives rise to words, i.e. thought itself? - but she was certain God would take her soul home.
Maybe Grandma was going through something like what St. John of the Cross termed, La noche oscura del alma, “the dark night of the soul,” a painful, lonely time of hardship and suffering when God often seems far away and praying is difficult. When I called to pray for Grandma, she didn’t feel like praying, (unusual for her) but was grateful that I would pray nonetheless.
In the midst of pain and suffering it’s easy to lose our place, forgetting our souls, interpreting the darkness of the night as the obliteration of light, the fogginess of the moment as the suspension of forever.
But God is there even when we have lost our footing and feel like we are hopelessly slipping into an endless quicksand of doubt. St. John in his gospel quotes Jesus as saying that no one or anything can take the soul of a believer because God’s children are safe and secure in his hands: “No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else” (John 10:28-29).
Grandma knew God was there, really, all along, even when she couldn’t find her soul.
When my sister-in-law, Lisa, called her and asked about what Grandma had said, Lisa tried to help her. “Did you mean the nursery rhyme you’ve prayed before, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep?’”
“Oh, yes, that’s it, honey,” Grandma said. And then she repeated the prayer with Lisa, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
If Grandma couldn’t remember for the moment, at least she knew where she could find her soul: safe in the hands of God who will keep it and not take it until he is ready for her.
Editor’s note: Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website, Davidbwhitlock.com.