Further Gifts from the Poet-Shaman Emily Dickinson

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. 

“Cathedral” Photo by Andy Simonds on Flickr.

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.”

Aquinas’ two forms of revelation. Photo by FotoRieth on Pixabay.

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.

Pristine mountain stream. Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

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—
Thunder—the Cricket—
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.

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7 thoughts on “Further Gifts from the Poet-Shaman Emily Dickinson”

  1. Avatar

    Thanks, Matthew, for the beautiful quotes today from Emily’s poems imaging her vision of nature as central to her spiritual beliefs and faith in the divine. She belongs with Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich. Shawoman she is!

  2. Avatar

    We have always had “the first book” but sadly have neglected it. Celts and indigenous people (my own Lakota and Irish) have stayed close to it. As Luther Standing Bear said, “Away from nature man’s heart becomes hardened.” }:- a.m.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for your comment, Patrick! You’re right! We need to NOT neglect the “First book” which is Nature, and which is the book that was not neglected by Emily Dickenson, nor Meister Eckhart nor the Native Americans or the Celts…

  3. Avatar

    The greatest separation of all is forgetting that we are nature. Only when we fully come back to this realization, will humans stop assuming dominance over “ other “ since there really is no other. It is all one creation with many different aspects. Honoring this diversity within unity is the key to opening our eyes and seeing that heaven is all around us and within us all the time as nature. No amount of fighting against what is will ever change the magnificent power of love that is continually birthing our universe.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Martha, you are right–we forget that we too are Nature–just one part of the whole. And heaven is all around us and within us, just as God is in all things and all things are in God (panentheism) and so is Nature within and without us, and it is also our closest part of the cosmos…

  4. Avatar

    Dear Matthew and Creation Spirituality Community

    Immense thanks for you just being there!
    Actually it is more a sense of being HERE!

    i have come over the past few months
    to build your daily meditations into my own soul pilgrimage

    Finding your reflections on the shamanic
    a liberation and an ongoing self-acceptance

    An encouragement to recognize the shamanic
    as an integral part of my own sense of being and vocation

    Following (perhaps with something of a limp)
    Sister Shaman Hildegard —- Sister Shaman Julian —- Sister Shaman Emily
    and Older Brother Shaman Jesus
    ** of the Desert
    ** of the Cross
    **. of the Open Tomb in the wild garden of Nature

    Joy and Perseverance in your strong Edge Journey

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