Knowing our soul

Daily Reading for November 20 • Edmund, King of East Anglia, 870

Did I find solace in reading? Yes, but not at first. . . . Isola gave me a book called Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, and a tedious thing he was—he gave me shooting pains in my head—until I came to a bit on religion.

I was not a religious man, though not for want of trying. Off I’d go, like a bee among blossoms, from church to chapel to church again. But I was never able to get a grip on Faith—till Mr. Carlyle posed religion to me in a different way. He was walking among the ruins of the Abbey at Bury St. Edmunds, when a thought came to him, and he wrote it down thus:

“Does it ever give thee pause, that men used to have a soul—not by hearsay alone, or as a figure of speech; but as a truth that they knew, and acted upon! Verily it was another world then. . . but yet it is a pity that we have lost the tidings of our souls. . . we shall have to go in search of them again, or worse in all ways shall befall us.”

Isn’t that something—to know your own soul by hearsay, instead of its own tidings? Why should I let a preacher tell me if I had one or not? If I could believe I had a soul, all by myself, then I could listen to its tidings all by myself. I gave my talk on Mr. Carlyle to the Society, and it stirred up a great argument about the soul. Yes? No? Maybe?

From The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Random House/Dial Press, 2008).

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