Anna Githens
Are the eyes really the window to the soul?
By Anna Githens
September 25, 2013

The great orator and Roman philosopher Cicero once said, "The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter." In the Bible Matthew reveals, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt 6:22-23). The proverb evolved over time encapsulating into these words of wisdom: "The eyes are the window to the soul."

I've often wondered why the human body, or the frame that supports those windows, is not equally regarded for its depiction of the human soul comprised within it, for if the eyes provide a glimpse of what lies within one's soul the body too must personify its inner contents. While Matthew explains the influence of the eyes on the body and their effect on the light within us, the body is inadvertently left out of the shortened proverb. Why only give significance to the eyes and neglect the role the body plays in defining the spirit? Does not a healthy diet, a nursing infant, or a warm embrace nourish the body and aid in the development of the soul?

For many an age, there has been an irresistible tendency to drive a wedge between spirit and matter, and this trend has become all too prevalent today. It suggests that what we see when we look in the mirror is not necessarily the person we are; the body and the human spirit are separate entities that may be in conflict with one another. Although we may physically appear to look a distinctive way, it is our feelings that determine our true essence; what we feel inside supersedes what is visible to the eye.

Dualism, a worldview that dates back to the ancient Persians, holds spirit and matter in two fundamentally different and radically distinct kinds of being. Manichaeism, a dualistic theology popular in the Roman Empire during the third century, maintains two opposing forces of creation, one good and one evil. God created all that is good, Satan all that is evil. It accredits the spirit of man to God but his body to the devil, which accounts for the constant struggle between the two. Good may prevail over evil only insofar as the spirit can rise above bodily limitations. However, Manichaeism discredits the notion of free will due to the devil's influential power on one's life, and thus denies human responsibility for one's evildoing.

St. Augustine, a former believer in Manichaeism, eventually rejected this duality and asserted that there is One Being that is Good, besides which there is nothing. Augustine's response to the justification of God is that there is a nature of evil, a form of non-being. He does not deny its existence, rather he says that evil is a parasite; it only exists as a privation of the good. Where there should be sight there is blindness, or blackness; where there should be hearing there is deafness. Evil, specifically moral evil, comes from human freedom.

These schools of thought have reemerged time and again morphing themselves into different manifestations such as Marcionism, Albigensianism, and most currently, utilitarianism, positivism, relativism and agnosticism. In fact, quite a number of modern day New York Times bestsellers promote these philosophies. Perhaps this is so because it is comforting to think that we don't have to hold ourselves accountable for poor choices we have made, or for actions we have taken of which we are ashamed. It is also alluring to think that one may have another chance at life on earth. However, wishing this to be true will not make it so.

Some have said that coming back and inhabiting other bodies is for the progression of the soul and has maturation purposes. Yet if a spirit never reaches its fullness in one body, why would it scrap that body and begin life anew in an entirely different one? If human spirits are merely elusive entities that, upon the death of the body, fly from one body to another what distinguishes one spirit from another? And if our bodies don't belong to us then what makes our souls unique? What is this thing that we call the self?

For example, if your spirit presently inhabits a man's body but upon your earthly death must return to inhabit, let's say, the body of a woman or a cat, does your spirit actually belong to you? If so, what exactly defines you as you?

If our body does not reveal our inner spirit or provide the means to which our spirit may express itself, then why do we have one and for what purpose has it been designed? Why wouldn't our Creator have simply designed spiritual entities?

John Paul II clarifies,
    "(T)he body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it."
He explains that self-mastery is crucial for a man to love authentically. "It is only the man who truly owns himself that can make a true gift of himself. This virtue, in John Paul II's eyes, is of great value to man because it enables him to make choices that are worthy of his personhood."

The human body provides a vision of the soul for the eye to see, albeit for the earthly interim. The two, body and soul, are conjoined together as an orange is to its rind. The outer layer protects its internal contents and the bright color of its shell depicts the unique tastes and sweetness contained within it. When we look at an orange, a banana, or an apple, we can anticipate how it will taste. The same is true for animal traits. When we see a dog, a deer, or a bird we immediately associate them to their character traits.

This reminds me of an old story, "The Golden Eagle":
    A man found an eagle's egg and put it in the nest of a backyard hen.

    The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

    All his life the eagle did what the backyard chickens did, thinking he was a backyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.

    Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.

    The old eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked.

    "That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbor. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we 're chickens."

    So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was!

    [Author unknown]

In this story, whether it was consciously or unconsciously, the eagle made a choice.

He chose to stay in his safe surroundings and live a peaceful and quiet life, and remained among chickens that influenced how he saw himself. He enjoyed his chicken friends, was well fed, and content in the backyard hen.

However, the eagle seemed fascinated by the magnificence of the bird flying over his head, yet he did not attempt to discover more about him. He simply took the word of his neighbor and never gave it another thought. Instead of becoming his own unique self he chose to remain the same and blend in with the brood of chicks.

Although the eagle seemed comfortable in his environment, he never challenged the fact that his physical design conflicted with his actions. He must have had a hard time pecking the ground for birdseed and clucking like a hen. He was equipped with wings and had the structural anatomy to fly, yet never made a concerted effort to use them. Perhaps he had deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy due to abandonment by his eagle-mother at birth. Whatever the reason, in the end he only hurt himself.

In life, we want to believe we are not responsible for our predicament. While this may be true, our predicament does not have to be permanent, for it is within our power to change it. Our increasingly secular society has conditioned us to believe this is impossible and has led us to credulously accept the ideology of dualism. This is perplexing since embracing this philosophy conflicts with belief in a loving God – a belief that 90% of Americans attest to having.

Since most of us believe that God is Love, everything designed by Love itself is good, and everything in this world, spiritual and corporal, has meaning, a purpose, and a destiny. However, upon entering the world we become vulnerable to sin and susceptible to its contamination. The goal is to conquer sin with love; love for our Creator and love for the created, which includes our created selves that in some way must image God.

Personhood is the inseparable and harmonious fusion of spirit and body. For it is written, “The Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living beingl" (Gen 2:7). Thomas Aquinas explains, "the term 'breathe' is not to be taken in the material sense; but as regards the act of God, to breathe is the same as to 'make a spirit.'" And in this way, he said, "The soul is created together with the body." Similarly, St. Paul tells us "If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body... But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual" (1 Cor 15:44,46).

Therefore, what we see when we look at ourselves is not an illusion it is reality. God does not make mistakes; he gives us the ideal body to provide us with the means to express our true spirit and nurture our unique soul. Although a body may be harmed upon entering a sin-infested world, it is not a physical handicap if one's body parts are capable of functioning properly; it is an emotional or mental inability to align oneself with one's physical capacities, which may render one incapable of naturally employing the faculties one is equipped to use.

God created us and loves us just the way we are for he is merciful and understands the human condition. It is mentally and emotionally taxing to play the role of someone we feel inadequate playing. Maybe we have not become the person we imagined ourselves to be, but it is never too late. We need to be gentle with ourselves and relinquish control to our Father Creator. If we ask for His help, we may discover hidden beauty that we otherwise may never have found, for the Holy Spirit can do infinitely more for our soul's progression than we alone could ever attempt to do.

Sometimes we are afraid to "spread our wings" and leave the safety and comfort of the "nest" we have made for ourselves. Perhaps this is due to past hurt, an absent parent, or a poor role model. If we never challenge the fact that our feelings directly conflict with our physical structure, we will never reach the fullness of our humanity. Like the eagle that played it safe, we will never learn to fly.

As John Paul II warned, "The human family is facing the challenge of a New Manichaeism, in which body and spirit are put in radical opposition; the body does not receive life from the spirit, and the spirit does not give life to the body." However, attaining a harmonious relationship between the two will give us the freedom to truly come to know ourselves. The magnificent eagle soaring in the sky demonstrates the harmonious splendor of a being embracing its true essence. This is what God wants for his children. What drives a person to this experience is embracing the body's design and its natural function, with which its spirit is infused.

Belief in Dualism is belief in a God that despises matter. Belief in the Christian God is belief in a loving God who "saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Gen 1:31). We have one life to live on this earth for which God gives us many personal skills and special gifts. Although it would have been a struggle, the eagle should have acknowledged his physical differences and worked to strengthen his wing muscles, just as we should embrace our physicality and work to strengthen and synchronize our bodies and minds. It was sad to read that the eagle died believing he was a backyard chicken. Just think of how wonderful it would have been for him to experience the magnificence of flying! Why choose to walk in life when you could fly?

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart" (Jer 1:5).

© Anna Githens


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Anna Githens

Anna Githens is a freelance writer who is passionate about promoting Christian ideals and tried and true American values. With an M.A. in Theology from Seton Hall University’s Immaculate Conception Seminary and a B.A in Economics from Providence College, she has diverse career experience in bond trading, teaching, and journalism. She is a mother of three wonderful sons and resides in New Jersey with her family.


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