Our Taiwanese “daughter,” (I call her that because she lived with us for two years while studying at the University of Colorado for a master’s degree) Shu-ling, sent us some travel brochures recently. She wants us to come visit her in Taipei someday.
Reading casually through one book, I came across an ancient rite called shoujing. It’s a very common sight, especially at the Xingtian Temple. Shoujing is the practice of “retrieving the soul.” When a person is deeply frightened by some event, the soul may flee the body, it is felt, and must be coaxed back.
A person whose soul has fled, goes to the temple where specially trained blue-robed lay workers ask a few questions, and then a fistful of burning incense sticks are waved over the soul-empty person, and a few incantations or prayers are recited until slowly, the soul returns to its place in the body and the person is whole again.
It’s a lovely metaphor. It recalls the psalmist who positions himself in green pastures and still waters, and then says of God, that he “restores my soul.”
What are the chances that there’s a goodly number of people in church on a given Sunday who feel soul-less? Who feel—because of an illness, a death, a loss of financial resources, loss of a marriage—that their soul in this frightened state has left them. They’re numb and lifeless and wondering when they’ll be whole again.
I feel like this from time to time—not for any particular reason. I find that sitting at the ocean’s edge “retrieves” my soul. This simple little meditative activity seems to put breath and life back into every cell of my body. Being in the mountains has a similar effect, but perhaps not as strong.
Possibly, we all have particular remedies, of which being in the house of God, or in a garden, art museum, in a boat fishing, at the ocean—somehow restores our souls. Perhaps this is what Oscar Wilde meant when he said that “nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.”