I wanted to find the Church’s stance on reincarnation and, above all, what the Bible said about this seemingly endless shapeshifting until the purification of the soul is complete, so to speak. What about the Christian belief that we live only once and have no return of life?
According to “A Concise Dictionary of Theology,” reincarnation is the belief or metempsychosis (“animate afterward”) that the soul preexists its embodiment. After death, the soul exists in a ghostly state before animating one again, a body of the same in a different state, which sounds a lot like a demon or malevolent spirit possessing the body of the living. It is this very belief in resurrection and official rejection of the preexistence of wandering souls without corporeal substance that denies reincarnation itself. By maintaining an endless series of chances, the doctrine of reincarnation reduces the seriousness of God’s grace and, most importantly, human liberty exercised in one life that is ended by once-and-for all death.
Furthermore, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage. When the single course of our earthly life is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives as “it is appointed for men to die once” [Hebrews 9:27]. Christianity defends the duality of the body and the soul. However, reincarnation defends dualism that both beings exist separately and that the body is simply an instrument of the soul; existence by successive existence as an altogether different body is repeatedly assumed each time one recycles life. Thus reincarnation denies the idea of the resurrection of the body, as evidenced by the resurrection of Christ, and most primarily rejects the Christian doctrine of salvation. Therefore, there is no reincarnation after death.
I feel much better now than before. While I succumbed to the belief in reincarnation, I couldn’t accept the thought of my present life as punishment for my wrongdoings in my past lives. To think that I have to live in a miserable state of discipline until my subsequent due recycling puts me on the verge of lunacy in the form of murderous headache for which I recently found myself in the ER. Viktor E. Frankl, the survivor of concentration camps during World War 2 and the founder of Logotherapy, urged us to trust that there is meaning in suffering, which helps us lead to our purposes in life. Samuel Johnson, one of the most significant 18th-century English men of letters and the author of A Dictionary of the English Language, describes life as progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment. Forget the arguments about the religious dogma dictating an institutionalized belief for mass mind control. Or it so, then so be it. After all, reincarnation is also another offshoot of mysticism developed into religious thought. Then I will follow the light that gives me a sense of hope. And for this reason, I proclaim that my body and soul are inseparable and that I live only once, and that’s it.
Sister Wendy was an erudite and delightful cloistered art historian in a veil who knew that Poetry is a song of the heart from a mind spring of sense and sensitivity, not to be burdened with a weight of reason. The result is a lovely apple-picking of her favorite poems in her pretty poetic orchard to share the beauty with the universal reader whose heart intoxicated and the spirit exalted in ethereal ecstasy. Her selection of poems manifests the finer tissues of her heart and the higher octaves of her spirit. Reading the entire book creates empathy for the sensitive minds of the poets so physically poignant that the reader senses the pain and the longing of the poets vis-à-vis.
Sister Wendy, also known for her long-time BBC documentaries on the history of art, speaks her heart through the poems of her choice colored in the spectrums of human emotions, ranging from longing to wonder, hope to sorrow, and anger to love. Even the subject of Faith becomes alluring due to Sister Wendy’s magical transformation of the matter into fairy-like ideation with sensually diaphanous wings as pagan as could be. Her interpretations speak on the poet’s behalf as an individual soul at the utter solitude, not as a literary artificer whose achievement merits the name in the canon of literature. In doing so, Sister Wendy brings out the poet’s true sentiment under a forage of words and shines her mystic perspectives on the poet’s reading in a splendid but straightforward way.
The reader will find famous, not-so-famous, and obscure poems from Elizabethan England to 20th century America in this lovely book. Sister Wendy is both discriminating, and non-discriminating in the human emotions poured into the world of poetry. She is discriminating in the sense that she has a “Third Eye” that sees the poet’s soul and understands the sentiment nuanced in the poem, including wrath and despair, poisons to the mind. Non-discriminating in a way, she values poems spirited in the heroic but straightforward endurance of existential malaise in everyday life written in the plebian language. From Shakespeare’s ‘Fidele’ to John Harris’s ‘Feral’ and many more, the reader will feel ennobled to walk the gardens of the poetic Elysium with Sister Wendy introducing you to each of the poets’ greeting and smiling.
Her epithet is deservedly illustrious, equal to her protean capacities for being multifarious: saint, mystic, and artist’s muse who was a curious kind of practical mystic with vision to match – that she would talk and hear God’s words from within and share them with the crowd in practice of charity, faith, and hope but never without heart. Protestant Elizabeth I of Great Britain might have envisioned the image of a Catholic nun of Spain a night before her Tilbury address that she had a woman’s body but had the bravery of a king. She is also the Doctor of the Church. She is Saint Teresa of Avila, the headstrong founder of the Carmelite Discalced and the woman of Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
My first encounter with this remarkable woman was not religious but academic; while researching women’s monasticism in the high medieval age during my college. Teresa saw many women who were too poor to pay dowry and didn’t want conjugal life found convents as shelters from social conventions without certain religious convictions. Consequently, convents became gossipy sonority houses populated with lackluster and jealous nuns backstabbing one another. The sad atmosphere of the convents used as a mere social institution propelled Teresa to establish the Carmelite Discalced – the Convent of Saint Joseph – with physical labor and disciplined monastic rules not without tenderness attended to individual nuns from all walks of life. She abolished land ownership and rent collections of and by nuns and instituted self-sufficiency of working without shoe but sandals, hence the name “Discalced.” The reformation within the Church was seismic but was a necessary medicinal receipt for the ailing monastic community.
What is most brilliant about Teresa was to create the idea of “The Interior Castle,” a philosophy that the creator of the Universe dwells inside the castle of our souls. That God is from within us, rather than the beyond betokens the idea of personal God with whom we can communicate and thus become a literal mirror image of him for what’s best in ourselves. In fact, this revolutionary philosophy is also linked to Giordano Bruno’s “The Memory Palace,” from which the knowledge needs to be unlocked to bestow upon us the power and joy of the knowledge from within. Further, it is related to the idea of the Nine Muses, whose inspirations are invoked from our minds, not from the Olympus or oracles. All of the mentioned above shares one origin in the cognitive technique employed in Christian meditation developed from the essential reading and contemplating the Bible. But Teresa’s Interior Castle is a beautiful poetic license to enrich power that is never esoterically prideful but blissfully joyful. Where Bruno’s Memory Palace and the Artist’s Nine Muses are not all-inclusive, Teresa’s Interior Castle is universal with tender charity and faith even if it is not necessarily Christian God.
Teresa of Avila was one brave and adventurous woman who was a prototype of feminist in the sense that she voiced out her mind to the patriarchal church authority in danger of being suspicious of heresy or witchcraft even in Catholic Spain, known for the Spanish Inquisition. But she was not a vociferous activist for abolishing the Church or would-be founder of an offshoot of the Church. Teresa was religious of the supreme kind. However, she never abandoned her femininity latticed with passion for helping a young priest in his spiritual crisis in war with physical temptation, tenderness for attending those in need of her consolation, and beauty that was both beautiful externally and internally. She shows us that a strong woman doesn’t need to shout out invective expletives or clamor for the reward for her damages in the name of womanhood when it is really for her sworn revenge. Aside from sectarian religious affiliations, Teresa of Avila deserves her reputation as a star in the Milky Way of the Great.