Tag Archives: doubt

Cosmic Gymnast

Summer solstice glided past me a couple of days ago. Now we are well into the thick of the heat. A lunar eclipse happens this Saturday. Look alive.

This year summer begins with a thunderstorm. Lance is cowering inside the house, while I brave exposure to the elements on the porch. First Lance wants to escape from the house. Then he wants to seek refuge inside the house. He can’t stand the noise, and he can’t decide where he will be safe because the trauma is everywhere all at once. What does he imagine is happening? Probably it seems to him that the house and the sky and everything that makes any sense at all is about to cave in on his head. Poor dumb dog. How can he have so little faith in the essential stability of things? Really.

Emily says the following:

#576, c. 1862

I prayed, at first, a little Girl,
Because they told me to —
But stopped, when qualified to guess
How prayer would feel — to me —

If I believed God looked around,
Each time my Childish eye
Fixed full, and steady, on his own
In Childish honesty —

And told him what I’d like, today,
And parts of his far plan
That baffled me —
The mingled side
Of his Divinity

And often since, in Danger,
I count the force ‘twould be
To have a God so strong as that
To hold my life for me

Till I could take the Balance
That tips so frequent, now,
It takes me all the while to poise —
And then — it doesn’t stay —

Her intelligence and maturity will not permit her to accept the bland assurances of prayer. Talking to God as if he were a big Santa Claus in the sky? Not for Emily. So where does that leave a clever girl in a world that tips and whirls and crashes? Emily says she’d love to invent a God strong enough to hold her life and make sure all is well in each of the particulars. She might have been willing to believe in that until it goes out of balance. Something crashes and falls. Someone dies. The impulse then for some is to pray all the more. Danger makes us faithful. The response to catastrophe beyond our control is to create another intelligence and put that One in charge. We are thrown back into our childhood again and again. Wouldn’t it be nice to think someone could move the thunderstorm from over our heads? The noise! The confusion!

In the end Emily removes God from the conversation. She occupies the last stanza with her first person singular pronouns, all by herself. Balance is the sense of coherence in existence for a faithful doubter like Emily. Tipping out of balance is the thing the life inevitably does to all of us, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” The difference between Emily and those who fall to their knees in prayer, is that Emily recognizes—in this final stanza—that the balance is hers to achieve. Not God’s to give. Her grammar makes her the originator of the balance or the coherence. In this stanza, she identifies “Balance” with the neuter third person pronoun “it”. Not a divine “Him” because the problem with inventing a God and giving that entity a gendered pronoun is that you also give Him a human mind. This creates all sorts of bafflement down below when He does things or allows things that no human would permit—death of the innocents, for example. Instead, Emily identifies “Balance” as a state of tension against that impersonal force in the world, the chaos that pushes up against the human mind, destabilizing it. The immature response is to beg for a parental cosmic entity (God as daddy) to make it all better. Emily takes responsibility for her own sense of balance.

The cosmic gymnast, Emily will bob and weave her way back to center. Forever holding her thoughts, bone, muscle, desire, all of herself on that balancing point that wobbles occasionally but then returns. Weighted more or less evenly on all sides, she remains mindful of her own life force at the center. A girl like that is indestructible.

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