Realm of Briar

Good morning. A gray, wet day. Took Lance and Leo for our walk, and they both came home covered with mud and joy. Leo is staying with us again, and the all-day wrestling match continues. Here is Emily’s contribution.

#1201, c. 1865

Far from Love the Heavenly Father
Leads the Chosen Child,
Oftener through Realm of Briar
Then the Meadow mild.

Oftener by the Claw of Dragon
Than the Hand of Friend
Guides the Little One predestined
To the Native Land.

So why do some of us get easier and more pleasant lives, and some of us get the Realm of Briar? It’s the question that just about everyone asks at some point. No one thinks of himself as the one with the Charmed Life. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Gosh, my life has been easy so far. I expect that to continue for the rest of my days.” Everyone thinks his troubles are the worst.

Yes, some of us learning to practice Gratitude. That is the habit of thought that moves one toward recognizing and emphasizing the things that work in your life, rather than the things that don’t work. There is surely some of both in the vast web of circumstances that surrounds any one life. So the quality of that life is a matter of emphasis or choice. Pull the background to foreground. It’s all there, the dross and the gold. It will always be there as an undifferentiated flow of stuff. The degree to which you are satisfied with your own life depends on your ability or willingness to notice the gold and pull it to the foreground of your thoughts. There will always be another Realm of Briar. That doesn’t prevent you from dwelling on the Meadow mild.

Emily’s idea about a Chosen Child intrigues me. The chosen one is not the good child or the deserving child. It is the child who has strayed far from God’s love. The one who is in the most trouble is the one Heavenly Father chooses for glory. Or in this case Native Land, which is really just a sense of home and safety, not glory.

Emily sees the whole thing as being orchestrated by Heavenly Father. He leads the chosen child into the briar. God only knows why. I have a different idea, splintering off Emily’s. (Sorry, Em but here I go.) The experience of being a chosen child is a collaboration between the one who has strayed and Heavenly Father. The child is, not only chosen by God, but chosen by himself as well. The child chooses to stray far from love. That choice makes him the ideal candidate for whatever God has in store. The Heavenly Father is looking for children like that. The wayward ones are the strong ones who can bear the briar and the Dragon’s Claw. These children would love strong and wide because they have stretched themselves by their own choice.

The complicated, headstrong, self-directed children choose the most difficult path and therefore most deserve that arrival. Because they come to it with all their doubts and rebellion, and knowing themselves and their own nature first. Hard to write about this without sounding condescending, but I think Emily would share my view that the hard-fought, hard-won victories over despair are the most precious. The Realm of Briar, the dark night of the soul, all these experiences open up the blood vessels and scour down to the roots of self. You have to go the most horrible places within yourself and see these for what they are before moving into what Emily calls love of the Heavenly Father. Or Native Land. (You can call it something else, if you like. Peace of mind, perhaps? For now, I’m using Emily’s language, since this is her poem.)

Only when you are no longer a mystery to yourself can you accept the larger mystery.


This morning I woke from a dream that I shot a man in the throat. I was the assassin assigned to the job. I don’t know why this guy had to die, but there were other conspirators demanding it. The man was a doctor and had a dark face, elegant and refined. I held the pistol to the base of his throat (right at the fifth chakra where we speak our truth) and tried to pull the trigger. It was difficult because the gun was old and rusty. I used both hands and shot him. He looked mildly surprised but not afraid. The bullet opened a neat, round hole in his throat, and I could see the fluid of life inside. His eyes flickered as the life escaped him. I ran away and hid, utterly consumed with shame. As I pulled myself to the surface, out of this dream, the thought came across: “Boy, it’s not easy to kill someone. You have to watch them die.”

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