Dickinson is, like Eckhart, not pining for a goal or a “Why” but rather coming to realize that the journey, the Way, is eschatology enough. “Instead of getting to heaven at last—I’m going all along.” Process matters. Christ is the “Way” after all, not just a goal. She tells us her cathedral is nature and birds are her sexton.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—
I keep it, staying at Home—
With a Bobolink for a Chorister—
And an Orchard, for a Dome—
Some keep the Sabbath in surplice—
I just wear my wings–
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little sexton—sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman—
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last—
I’m going, all along.
She was working toward a new myth of Christianity, one that was nature-based and science-based, non-anthropocentric, non-dualistic, non-homophobic and that incorporated the feminine. How prophetic was that?
She criticizes too much attention given the Bible which is, after all, only one source of revelation—to her the Bible “is an antique volume–/written by faded Men.”
Nature is the other source of revelation and, to her, the more pressing. She calls on scientists, since for her “all science…is of God and from God.” (Hildegard of Bingen, a sister mystic and feminist 700 years earlier wrote “All science comes from God.”) Emily’s “religion, therefore, is a religion of science, nature and the cosmos. Compare this to Aquinas who says “revelation comes in two volumes: The Bible and Nature.”
Like these other nature-based mystics, Dickinson exhorts us to pay attention to the momentary experiences of transcendence, in the now. For instance: “The Soul’s Superior instants/ Occur to Her—alone—”. Yet all people are capable of these experiences. This is spiritual democracy, as Herrmann insists. These are moments of ecstasy that we ought not take for granted.
So trusting is Emily in these very mystical moments that, as Herrmann points out, “even after her attempts to publish met with utter failure, the ‘Soul’s Superior instants’ were enough to sustain Emily Dickinson throughout her lifetime and allowed her to maintain equanimity.”* Trusting the moments of “oneing” (Julian’s word), gave her the strength she needed to carry on her vocation which was often a lonely one.
Nature as the Kingdom of God
Dickinson’s kingdom of God is that of creation or nature—and it is not far from us provided we truly open our eyes and see.
‘Nature’ is what we see–
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse—the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
She calls herself a “bride of awe.”
See Steven Herrmann, Emily Dickinson: A Medicine Woman for Our Times (Kingfisher Press,2018), pp. 195f, 80f.
See Thomas H. Johnson, ed., The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, # 324, 668
See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing; Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth.
Banner Image: “Forest.” Photo by Samantha Forsberg on Flickr.
Are all mystics brides of awe? Are we all brides of awe? If not now, soon?
Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth
Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.
Join Matthew Fox and the Infinity Foundation for an inspiring virtual event based on Matthew’s latest book, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic, Wednesday, 5/19, 5:00pm-7:00pm PT (GMT/UTC-8) Learn more HERE.