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The Mystery at the Heart of Being Human

For some of us, “soul” is an important word. But it’s a word to be held lightly, in open hands. It points to the mystery at the heart of being human — a mystery known by many names whose true name no one knows.

Secular humanists call it “identity and integrity.” Hasidic Jews call it “the spark of the divine in every being.” Thomas Merton called it “true self.” Quakers call it “the inner light.” Buddhists call it, paradoxically, “Big Self” and “No-Self.”

What you call it doesn’t matter — but that you call it something matters a great deal. When we fail to name and celebrate the “being” in “human being,” we are more likely to treat each other like objects, commodities, or machines. In an era of non-stop violence to the human self, we must lift up the fact that everyone has an inviolable, sacred core.

Here are “a few words on the soul” by Wislawa Szymborska, the gifted Polish poet who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. Szymborska has a wonderful way of writing about elusive truths with a mix of gravitas and lightness that helps us see more deeply into what it means to be human.

A Few Words On The Soul
by Wislawa Szymborska

We have a soul at times.
No one’s got it non-stop,
for keeps.

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.

(Excerpted. Read the full poem here.)

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