A Catholic Monthly Magazine


Joy Cowley

“Some say the world is a ‘vale of tears’, I say it is a place of soul-making.” John Keats

When we are young, much of life experience seems unplanned and random. Our dear little hearts are torn by both love and disappointment, one as painful as the other, and without warning, days open up under our feet, hurtling us into some new happening.

We sometimes feel out of control and don’t know where God is in it all. The old childhood divisions of good/bad, right/wrong, light/dark, are no longer as clear as they once were, and at this stage, many of us need to let go of a child’s image of God as a giant in the sky who judges us according to his rules.

Letting go is an important step in discovering our relationship with God.

In maturity, we find that God is much closer and less well defined. We look at the stories of our life and see them as one story, each experience connected to what follows. Because we no longer separate those events by putting labels on them, the past makes sense and we have a feeling of purpose, a confidence in the future. We realise that one story has to end for a new story to begin.

This process is known as “soul-making” and it was the poet John Keats who wrote in a letter to his sister: “Some say the world is a ‘vale of tears’, I say it is a place of soul-making.”

Judaism puts the same teaching another way. We are all born with a spark of God in us. It is our duty in the world, to fan that spark into a flame. It’s what incarnation is about – spiritual growth.

This is when we enter the deep mystery of our own faith, and live the understanding that God is not only in us but in all of existence. There are times when we dare to believe that God is all there is.

We reflect on all the stories of our life and see them as one story of soul-making. Things that seemed random, wandering, mistake, tragedy even, have all been important for growth. We no longer see God as some kind of Santa Claus, giving according to our notions of comfort. We see what Jesus meant when he said, “Except a grain of wheat dies, it will remain a single grain.”

Jesus then went on to demonstrate the growth process with his own life.

So now, near the end of life-school, I appreciate all as a journey of soul-making and all God’s gift. I look at people my age and see the bright flames of God-growth in them. There are signs that our bodies are going into labour to give birth to our souls, and while some of that may be uncomfortable, there is also the knowing that the entire beautiful story of soul-making is held in love.

There is no way we can ever be lost to that love. 

I have on my wall a poem Fr Carlo Carretto wrote in his senior years:

Do not worry about what you
ought to do. Worry about loving.
Do not interrogate heaven
repeatedly and uselessly.
saying, ’What course of action
should I pursue?’ Instead,
concentrate on loving. 

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