Seeking the Divine

Book Pick: The Soul’s Upward Yearning

The Soul’s Upward Yearning

Clues to Our Transcendent Nature From Experience and Reason

By Father Robert Spitzer

Ignatius, 2015

375 pages, $20

To order: EWTNRC.com

 

With poll data suggesting that the American public is becoming less religious and more agnostic or even atheistic, Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer’s The Soul’s Upward Yearning is an important and timely piece.

Here, the president of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith and frequent EWTN contributor lays out a well-evidenced argument that humans are, by our very nature, oriented toward a higher power. This pull transcends time and even religions, and clues of its existence can be found in multiple scenarios, ranging from classical and contemporary fiction to near-death experiences.

Yearning is volume two of four intended to address existential questions. Having not read volume one and not having much background in the foundational underpinnings of the subject area, I found myself less than prepared to wade into such a dense read.

While a thought-provoking and thorough piece of scholarship, this book may be daunting for readers not already well-versed in the subject matter. Rather than a book oriented toward the lay reader, Yearning is a scholarly work for those in academia or those seeking to dive deeper into the subject area.

Father Spitzer recognizes this reality, and even provides guidance that novices like me could use to bypass certain sections of the book or revisit them at a later point, guidance I found to be most helpful.

The fundamental message of Yearnings is that we are attracted to the divine and that this attraction leaves us feeling small and overwhelmed at the same time it pulls us into a loving embrace.

For Christians, God’s unconditional love is at the core of our faith:

Though some religious exhort their followers to control fear and to expect peace in the afterlife, Christianity seems to be distinctive in creating an antithesis between fear and love and asking its followers to replace fear with trust in the unconditionally loving God.

One of the most interesting sections of the book, in my view, is the suggestion that mythical works like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter and Star Wars that revolve around the struggle of good vs. evil are so popular because they point toward the ultimate truth we all seek. Myths, Father Spitzer writes:

Tell a story that expresses a “creed” about creation, a transcendent reality, gods, heroes, villains, good and evil, virtues and vices — a story about adventure and challenge, darkness and light, wisdom, courage, fortitude and temperance. … Myths appeal not only to our intellect, but also to our emotions, intuitions and soul. When we read myths, we not only discover a truth about God, the transcendent, or the supernatural; we feel the ultimacy, mystery and desirability of these transcendent realities.”

Later in the book, Father Spitzer even uses data from near-death experiences to further press his case for the transcendental soul.

As noted earlier, while Father Spitzer has produced a solid volume, I would categorize this book as a scholarly work best suited for those with a foundation in the rich philosophical and scientific underpinnings or those lacking such a background but interested in committing the time and resources to become learned in the subject matter. I would also recommend that those interested in the book begin with the first volume.

Father Spitzer should be commended for working in concrete examples to make his points and for providing guidance and direction to readers less familiar with the topic at hand. While the core message of this work would likely appeal to many, the esoteric content will make it challenging for the casual lay reader.

Nick Manetto writes from

Herndon, Virginia.