Richard Plass and James Cofield base their book, The Relational Soul, with the claim that “a deep participation in the life of another is the lifeblood of the soul” (15).
Relationships are not epiphenomenal or added extras. They form the core of the soul. Plass and Cofield cite recent studies of the formation of the brain to suggest that the way we relate to our original others (parents especially) hardwires us in unique ways.
We are relational souls because we are “created in the image of a relational God. . . . We are created with this relational likeness and we long for relational connection because God exists in a relationship of love. God designed us to enjoy giving and receiving. God designed us to be for another. God designed us to receive from another. We receive our understanding of our self in relation with another” (13).
From this Trinitarian anthropology, they develop a schema of four relational patterns that have mainly to do with the development of trust, or mistrust, between parent and child. They argue that an unconscious implicit memory of early relationships continues to affect our ways of relating throughout our lives. They diagnose various moral, psychological, and relationship problems by showing how they are expressions of a false self that arises from relational failures, failures of trust.The gospel is at heart good news of restored communion between God and sinners, and between sinners and sinners, and the authors show how the gospel takes form in one’s self-understanding, in communities of confession and forgiveness, and through the practice of meditative reading and contemplative prayer.
The Relational Self is a practical book on spirituality, counseling, community, the long, difficult road of personal transformation, all grounded in a compelling Trinitarian theology. That’s a lot for anyone to accomplish in a single book, and the authors do it all uncommonly well.