Dum spiro – spero (while I breathe, I hope). Journeying with Elsa Joubert in the quest for the “naked truth” regarding the essence of our being human

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Christian anthropology has been deeply influenced by the dualistic schism between the human soul and the human body. The quest for immortality had often been formulated in terminology borrowed from a Platonic and dualistic view of life: the human body as merely a temporary prison for an immortal soul.

The author Elsa Joubert wrestled with the mystery regarding the core of life and the meta-physical realm of soulfulness and transcendence. This was triggered in her youth by the deaths of her sister and father. While facing the ailments of old age, she reflected on the meaning of life and the destiny of our being human. The notion of an “abstract soul” did not suffice. The “naked truth of soulfulness” was revealed to her while facing the naked buttocks of an old woman in her ward – the frailty of old age within the limitations of a vulnerable human body. She suddenly realised that the truth of our being human resides in the mode of embodiment enfleshed in compassionate care to others.

The argument is developed that anthropology should not start with the fall of man and the notion of sinfulness but with doxology − the aesthetics of the human soul. The fall paradigm most of times leads to a speculative paradigm regarding what is good and what is bad (the moralistic paradigm). Pastoral healing is then reduced to the transformation of human beings by means of conversion from sins and bad habits; i.e., the redemption of the human soul and the restoration of broken relationship with God. Despite the fundamental value of a redemption paradigm, spiritual wholeness implies more than redemption. This more points to the spirituality of cultivating the beauty of the human soul – the more of doxa, the sanctification of life as the space of compassionate caring and meaning-giving.

Rather than a pessimistic view (hermeneutics of suspicion) or even optimistic view (hermeneutics of ontic goodness) on our being human, a hermeneutics of doxa (Ancient Greek: δόξα) is proposed (hermeneutics of blessing). Doxa means “judgment, opinion” and by extension, “good reputation, honour” (the aesthetics of soulfulness): the human being, created by God to display the beauty of life in terms of actions of caring, nurturing and compassionate being-with the other in his/her frailty and vulnerability – human beings as ambassadors of sacrificial love and representations of unconditional grace. The soulful question therefore shifts from a hermeneutics of suspicion to a hermeneutics of blessing; i.e. to empower, to dignify, to acknowledge the other so that in the most difficult circumstances of suffering, loss, despair and dying, hope is displayed. Therefore, pastoral encounters display a “power of kindness” (Bregman 2020). Soulfulness should be fostered as the charity of reaching out and the compassion of all-embracing, caring and comforting.

Keywords: aesthetic approach; anthropology of doxological appraisal; embodied soul; human soul; meta-physics of the human soul


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Dum spiro – spero (terwyl ek asemhaal, hoop ek). Op reis met Elsa Joubert oor die "naakte waarheid" van die "menslike siel"

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