Sometimes I wish I had more of a poet’s touch, rather than pounding out these paragraphs of prose for all these years. The ability to say so much with so few words is a lacking discipline in our society (outside of a scarce group of especially creative people on Twitter), so the poets who can weave and wordsmith their way into our hearts with only a quatrain or two, have my highest admiration.
In days past we had Walt Whitman, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and from across the Atlantic, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And while I’m no expert in the genre, my favorite writer from this golden poetic age is Emily Dickinson.She was a complicated woman, unorthodox in style, and for her time, she had an unorthodox spirituality.
From strong, New England, Puritan roots she was a witness to the latter years of the Second Great Awakening, had an apparent conversion of faith, and even attended seminary for a time. Her getting “saved,” using the language of the period (and still used by some today), was short-lived. While her friends and family rushed to the baptismal waters and formal church membership, Dickinson remained aloof. That’s where she would remain for the rest of her life: Deeply spiritual, attuned to heaven, and while often plagued by doubts (to which we are all susceptible), her aversion for the church did not make her resistant to faith.
One of her more well-known poems, a twelve-line treasure referred to as, “Some Keep the Sabbath,” was written after she made her decision to leave the organized church. It served as an explanation then, and a manifesto for some people of deep faith today, but who for innumerable reasons, can’t call the institutional church “home.” Dickinson wrote, her lines fitting nicely in one paragraph:
“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.”
As a lifelong church-person, and of the professional “clergy,” I must say that some of the most faithful, loving, Jesus-following people I have met no longer have an “I.D.” card associating them with the church. This does not mean there are not faithful, loving, Jesus-following people within the church. It simply means that organized religion does not have a monopoly on God.
Many outside the walls of the church aren’t there because of rebellion or a lack of a spiritual thirst. They have simply found that a faith without borders is more appropriate for their search – they are in strong company and not alone. Their destination may not be the church sanctuary each Sunday, but they are “getting to Heaven” every step of the way.