The Undivided נֶפֶש

Last night I attended the induction service for the new minister of Knox Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Dr. Kerry Enright. I have known Kerry for quite a while. I have had a few peripheral roles in the Presbyterian Church over the years, and our paths have meandered together from time to time. This is a very good appointment indeed, and will be of benefit to Knox, the Presbyterians, and to the whole city. The induction was a great service held in one of Dunedin's architectural treasures, but that's not what I want to talk about today. The sermon was preached by my chaplain, John Franklin, an old friend of Kerry's, and a very good sermon it was too. John preached about the healing at the pool of Bethzatha, and about Jesus' searching question to the bloke who had carved out quite a nice wee niche for himself as a professional invalid and victim: "do you want to be healed?" But that isn't what I want to talk about either. In the middle of his sermon John spoke of the undivided Nephesh (נֶפֶש) which lay at the centre of the beggar by the pool; and which in fact lies at the centre of us all. That's what I want to talk about.

The undivided Nephesh. This evocative phrase caused me to scurry home and dust off my long neglected Hebrew Bible.  נֶפֶש (Nephesh) is translated in various ways in the First Testament, but most commonly as "soul". The first use of the word in the Bible is in Genesis 2:7:   
 וַיִּיצֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן
 הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם
 לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה:  

then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Now of course this very small  passage contains several rich (to use one of John Franklin's favourite words) and evocative phrases, and I don't want to gloss over the myriad of subtle and multilayered meanings. But...actually... I will, so if you want to avoid my bumbling wrestling with concepts that are at the very edge of human ability to explain them - or this human's abilities anyway - skip down now to the last paragraph of this post. God breathed into the creature God had just made from dust and the result was a nephesh, a soul. To put it another way,  the Spirit of the one from whom all things derive was placed into a being formed within the time/space continuum and the result of this was the existence of nephesh. So nephesh is, according to this one verse,  that which arises when pure consciousness is manifested in the world of form and substance.Aha!

Now this was a helpful idea to me, because right there in the middle of  that big old church with the dignitaries of the Presbytry of Otago and Southland all around me I suddenly had a visual image of something which I have been struggling to explain to myself for a long time, namely the shape of my own fractured interior and what it is I am doing when I rise early in the morning and try as hard as I can to be still. I have (or, more accurately, I am ) a nephesh. This nephesh, because of the way I have been shaped and because of the way I have interacted with the world over 60 something years is fractured and scattered and the variously divided; seemingly unrelated bits and pieces of it are what interact with the world around me, and with other people. But the divided up parts aren't ultimately fragmented. They have a point of union, in the same way that the branches of a tree have a point of union in the trunk of the tree: the undivided nephesh. When I wrap my old black cloak around myself and sit on my little prayer stool and say my holy word, I am intending to move from the divided branches inwards and downwards to their meeting point in the trunk. I am seeking to dwell, for a short time anyway, in the undivided nephesh which lies at the centre of my being. And I am wishing to dwell there not so much because that is some sort of final destination, but because it is the path, actually the only path, to what lies within and below it, deeper still, and one with it: that ground which is, says Meister Eckhart, my ground and God's ground. In silence I intend to locate myself in pure awareness which is, like God, no-thing.

Following the induction there was the usual cup of tea  and a chance to talk to a few of the many people I knew. I drove home glad to have been there: glad for Knox, for Kerry and for the hearing of John's lovely phrase. I woke early this morning and took my seat all the more easily for having heard it.


Sue Pickering said…
Thank you Kelvin for wrapping some simple deep words around what I had not yet been able to name for myself.
Mavis said…
I enjoyed meeting you last night Kelvin, and doubly thankful to have now read this reflection
Anonymous said…
You have named, with your customary Spirit-sharp perception, what I intuited in that phrase Kelvin. The time on my prayer still is enriched by it.
And preaching… The preacher throws the word out, and what the Spirit does with it is rich in its diversity (that word again!) And the preacher usually has no idea. So thanks for letting me know what the Word got up to through your receptors.