The Great Chain of Being

An open letter to a loved one:

One idea upon which I've come in the course of my life is the "Great Chain of Being" (an idea that goes back millenia): that ALL of Creation is ensouled: humans have 'souls' of course, but animals have their own degree of 'soul', and so do plants (though less than animals), and so do rocks (although less than plants), etc. That EVERYTHING in Creation has 'soul' to a greater or lesser extent — and God Herself the most soul of all.

Sometimes I find that when I have to choose 'a side' on some question, with no real evidence yeah or nay, that I can simply choose the idea which makes my life better, that promotes other values I hold dear. And so it is with the "Great Chain of Being". I have no 'proof' that, for example, the very grass on which I stand has its own kind of soul. But choosing to embrace the this idea makes my life better because it makes all of Creation "wonderful" (full of wonder), and makes me more reverential to ALL of Creation. As opposed to the generally accepted notion that nobody and nothing has 'soul', and thus I have license to abuse Creation including the plants and animals and even my fellow human beings all I want — wait — that's the consensus 'scientific materialism' view! How's that working for Humanity?

(BTW, just because the Scientific Method has been one of humanity's great cognitive 'hammers' doesn't mean that every human question is a nail.)

If one accepts the idea of the "Great Chain of Being", it stands to reason that when Stradivarius made a violin, he started with wood with its own limited 'soul', then deeply invested his own, so the finished violin has far more soul than the original wood.

I can tell you from my own experience that there is an enormous difference between musical instruments created with Love and all the relentless attention to detail that entails, vs. those built with the attitude of "who cares". What a concept, that a player with hard-won 'soul' (from tens of thousands of hours of practice for starters), and an instrument with its own 'soul' (built by makers who have invested their own ten thousand hours of Love and Care), and an audience with its own Soul, and even God Herself listening in (with her own ten thousand infinities of experience) — doesn't that fit your experience of Music far better than the current pseudo-scientific view that a bio-machine (the player) is manipulating a dead machine (the musical instrument) and the listeners are experiencing nothing more than machine-like chemical reactions in their brains? Is that how the experience of listening to music feels to you? Not me!!

All of this came up in the context of you asking me about my practice of checking the oil & coolant on my vehicle every time I fill it with gas. For one thing, I have to wait anyway so why not put that time to use? But there is another reason…

And that is: according to the "Great Chain of Being", even cars have their own kind of 'soul'. My van is the result of all sorts of metals and more, wrenched from the Earth and fabricated with enormous human attention into all manner of fantastic forms, and assembled into my vehicle. 

In my experience, when I care for the machines in my life (e.g. my car) I seem to have fewer problems. Of course my car will last longer if I check its oil regularly even from a purely mechanical point of view. But what if its more than that? What if my car is responding to the admittedly minimal Love of checking its oil, and keeping it empty of trash? All of which makes me my car's 'Shepherd'!

What if I'm the shepherd of all the so-called "soulless-things" in my life (as well as the plants, animals and people)? What if they all have a soul to some extent? From the "Great Chain of Being" point of view I will naturally treat EVERYTHING in my life with more reverence, and gratitude, and my own soul will be richer for that attitude.

Sounds like a big win for all concerned!