The pandemic exhausted me mentally, physically and emotionally. There were and, in many ways, continue to be no breaks from trauma on personal, societal and ecological levels. I’d never in my life looked for peace and comfort as much as I did and continue to. At a critical moment in life, when there was so much loss and unknown, all I wanted was the kind of certainty that couldn’t be taken away from me. I wanted to go home, to the place I knew was capable of helping me take the deep breath I needed.
Beyond the exhaustion, it also gave me so much unrequested space to really think about what I want out of my time here. It turned wanting to go home into a need. Not being able to have that made me question how much of myself I would ever truly know. How does this continuous disconnect caused by distance and time affect me? Then I wondered, this thing I’m trying to know, this being, what is it? What is my soul? I had two options, fall deeper into the escape routes I built over the years or stand and face this drastic unknown. I decided to focus on my foundations, my faith, Christianity, and my culture, Igbo and use them to begin my return to myself.
Ancient Hebrews believed the soul was responsible for bringing the body to life, making it a living rather than a dead thing. They saw the soul as the non-material part of us, the real person who thinks feels and has our spiritual and moral qualities. The interesting part about the understanding of the soul from a biblical perspective is the debate on whether the Bible teaches us a dichotomist or trichotomist theory. Are we made up of two parts (body and spirit) or three parts (body, soul and spirit)? The creation story in Genesis refers directly to the dichotomist theory. “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). Some theologians argue that in the creation of man there was no mention of a soul and as such, the body did not embody a soul but instead became a soul—a whole living being. I disagree with this argument because of its lack of acknowledgment of the rest of the Word. I would argue that the Word teaches a trichotomist theory because of its mention of the soul (Jeremiah 38:16) and the spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). That said, I admit it can be confusing because of how interchangeable “spirit” and “soul” appear to be in the Bible.
In Igbo culture, we are made up of the material (body) and immaterial. My focus is on the immaterial. The chi is the destiny-spirit linked to a person from the moment of conception and believed to originate from God. The Igbo believe that when we die, our chi goes back to God to give an account of our work on earth. The chi is what holds our abilities, gifts and faults. In order to be successful, we must fulfil our chi’s destiny in life. The Igbo also believe in reincarnation and the eke (the spirit of an ancestor who reincarnates in a child). The eke like the chi is also assigned to a child by God at conception. The eke is the ancestral guardian linking us to those who came before us, our family clan. There is also the onyinyo (shadow-spirit), the visible form of the shadow cast by the body. It is the proof of self in a living being and the reason the Igbos believe that corpses do not cast shadows. When we die our spirits leave our bodies so there can be no shadow. Of the different parts of us, according to my culture, what’s closest to my beliefs about the soul is the chi.
What’s more confusing than the definition of the soul is its origin. By the words of Scripture, God breathed the breath of life once into Adam. During Eve’s creation, there was no second breath of life mentioned. We also know that God ceased his work of creation after the sixth day and there was no mention of the end of the seventh day of rest. Is this too literal of an understanding? When God charged us with the task of procreation, did God turn us into the authors of souls to come? Since the Bible doesn’t note the creation of any man before Adam, what do we make of the part of Scripture that says God knew us before we were born? In Igbo culture, as stated earlier, the origin of the soul is twofold, pre-existence and reincarnation. God (Chukwu) gives the chi to the individual. The Igbo also believe that God is still creating more human spirits. I don’t have a definitive answer to our soul’s literal origin, but I do believe that this is one of those questions whose answer lies beyond our time spent on earth.
Part of my musings about my soul inevitably led me to think about its purpose. When God gave me my chi, what did God task it with doing? This is the kind of existential question that halts me every time. I know I won’t find it in a book titled “Chidera’s purpose”. It remains a question I come back to over and over again and each time I’m just as stuck as the last. Then I watched Soul by Disney and Pixar. Soul reminded me that some of the best parts of life are in the little things. Taking a walk and breathing in fresh air, dipping your feet in the water at the beach, making memories with loved ones and so much more. Beyond that, it also beautifully showed me how I might have been thinking about purpose the wrong way. The part of me that wanted God to directly tell me what I’m here for, realized the best way to find that was to look at the things that make me want to live, the things God decided would bring my soul joy.
There’s so much to the soul I don’t know and will never know in this lifetime. When I think about humans existing, being, I see us as spirits with souls living in bodies. I believe the soul is the brain of the spirit, holding our morals, beliefs, emotions, and personality. In order to fully be, to go beyond existing and find your way into the world of living, you have to become one with your soul. If you hope to know yourself and love yourself, you must meet and understand your soul, whatever that may be.
The Holy Bible; Revised Standard Version