Relating Soul to Spirit

Staff who feel comfortable with their own spirituality have been shown to be most at ease talking with patients about what really matters to them in the areas of religion or spirituality.

Have you ever wondered how the language of soul care and spiritual care relate to each other? The soul is a concept that arises from Scripture. Spiritual care and spirituality have been described as travelling terms, around which over the last fifty years has grown a consensus definition related to a person’s meaning, beliefs, purpose, belonging and rituals. As is common in most chaplaincies, there is a need to be bi-lingual, across different domains as has its own lexicon of terms and areas of interest. However, while overlapping, as shown in the following figure, the terms soul and spirit are not synonymous.

Figure 1. The relationship between the soul and the Biopsychosocial-spiritual model

From a Biblical perspective, all people not only have souls but are souls, each being a mysterious combination of dust and breath first described in the book of Genesis (Gen 2:7). Perhaps the most confusing aspect of the soul is around the word breath or spirit. The confusion has arisen because breath (or spirit or wind) which is used in a general or universal sense as above, is a ‘small s‘ spirit as distinct from the more specific ‘capital S‘ Spirit which refers to the redemptive work of the person work and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which relates quite specifically to Christian faith.   

In Scripture, the term soul is not a particularly religious word but rather speaks to the unity or totality of the human person, as in the way the marriage ceremony speaks of “all that I am and all that I have”. At its simplest, the soul is dust of the earth animated by the inspiration (or inbreathing) of the breath of God and reminds us that people, like all of creation, are enlivened, animated and sustained by the Creator God. However, it is only human souls, or beings, that are said to bear the image of God, which makes the all encompassing created nature of each soul even more valuable.

The biopsychosocial-spiritual model seeks to describe parts of the unity and totality that make up a person and seeks to honour the dignity of each person.

From a health perspective, working with the biopsychosocial-spiritual model, all people are said to have physical, mental, social and spiritual aspects of personhood or existence. In this regard, we can see that the biopsychosocial-spiritual model of the human person seeks to describe parts of the unity and totality that make up a person and seeks to honour the dignity of each person and tends toward to the Biblical concept of the soul.

In the medical model, the biological aspect of a person refers to their physical health; the psychological aspect refers to emotional and mental health; the social aspect refers to the larger social and cultural systems within which a person is embedded. The spiritual health refers to a person’s non-material aspects of being – including their relationships, values, beliefs, hopes and possibilities. It is this non-material aspect which corresponds most closely to the breath or animating or inspiring aspects of the soul.  

From a soul care perspective, in Christian ministry, we are expressing a holistic concern for people through radical hospitality, compassion, love and care. From a health and spiritual care perspective, there is particular concern for a person’s non-material needs, especially the way in which a person is making sense of their reality and the changes happening about them; this includes people’s religious and spiritual beliefs. This is crucial because a patient for whom religion is important, their faith may well be providing the interpretive grid over all that is happening. For example a Christians patient may well be viewing every aspect of their physicality, psychology and social relationships through the lens of their personal beliefs and the interactive presence of indwelling of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  

From a spiritual care perspective, all staff are expected to provide general spiritual care as they care holistically for their patients. They are encouraged to provide a compassionate presence expressing concern for their health, social and emotional well-being as well as those less tangible things such as their deep beliefs, motivations and the way in which they envision their future. Staff are encouraged to identify patients who are expressing needs in any of these areas and refer on to specialists, psychologists, social workers or spiritual care practitioners or chaplains.

Staff who feel comfortable with their own spirituality have been shown to be those most at ease when talking with patients about what really matters to them in the areas of religion or spirituality. If the patient’s spiritual care needs are connected to a particular faith or religion, it is important to connect that patient to a chaplain who can most closely meet that person’s needs.

Author: Pastoral Thinking

This web-page is a place where chaplains, pastoral and spiritual carers are encouraged to think both deeply and laterally about the world we live in, and the pastoral care we provide.

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