Jokes by the dozens have been told about looking in the bathroom mirror and not understanding who is looking back. I look in the mirror and see a 75 year old man staring back at me with a look of disbelief. The “me” that is alive and ever present in me is someone other than that image. The “me” that is alive and ever present is also present with the me who is still a child, teen, and young adult. That “me” is always learning new things, becoming a more mature “me,” but it’s not an old man me.
I thought about that when visiting an elderly woman dying of terminal cancer. She would begin talking about her life, then lapse into long silences broken by sighs. Her eyes betrayed memories of all the “me” that was in her, in every age, with every joy and regret. The frail body lying in the hospital bed contained all that was “me” in her, and it was very much alive.
That, perhaps, is what is meant by the soul. It is the essential “me” that lives regardless of the body that carries it. Which is not to say the body is unimportant. Without embodiment things get pretty airy-fairy. We Christians believe the embodied soul is essential to our wholeness, which is why St. Paul said, “…Someone will ask, How are the dead raised?…With the resurrection of the dead, what is sown in perishable, what is raised is imperishable. …It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (I Cor. 15) Was Paul just guessing, or did he have special knowledge? We’ll each find out by and by. One thing we know he had was first hand experience with the risen Christ. It gave him confidence that whatever befalls human beings in this life, there is more life to come, and it’s embodied.
Be that as it may, I remain stuck with the odd looking apparition that stares back at me from the bathroom mirror, at least for now. Might as well make the best of it.