Tag Archives: spiritual life

My First Knowing

Drenching rain this morning and too cold to sit on the porch. My practice, as originally conceived, has been derailed by a number of factors not all of them atmospheric. Let’s first review today’s submission from Emily.

#1218, c. 1878

Let my first Knowing be of thee
With morning’s warming Light —
And my first Fearing, lest Unknowns
Engulf thee in the night —

The daily fabric shifts when you expand your home (either literal or psychic) to include one more. So much that is new comes into the house with another person. Not only that simple fact of physical presence, but waves of change all through the rooms. It is as if the house itself and the apparently invisible air inside it were made of some warp and weft that has to open or move aside to make room for a new person. To shift from one woman (plus a brown dog) to one woman, a brown dog, and a man is like cracking open an egg. Something is lost, and something is gained. The two conditions cannot exist simultaneously, and the house breathes differently as a result.

It would be nice to keep the egg whole and perfect in its bottom-heavy wobble. The potential inside could remain there for good and maintain its integrity as potential. (I love that “potent” root of “potential”.) However perfect, the unbroken egg does not offer its nourishment. It doesn’t go anywhere or do anything. It does not explore the scope of its destiny and never fulfills its potential.

I suppose I could remain on my porch forever . . . or at least a long time. I could find those perfect boundaries of my constructed world. Then after I’d had enough, I could let it crack open and see what sort of potential flows out of that into realization. It’s messy, sure. Nothing more disturbing than another consciousness in space. Also nothing more stimulating. I allowed this shift. I invited the change. As I adapt to it and find my new posture in shared space, I can’t help but notice what was lost and what is gained.

In her poem, Emily looks at the arrival of consciousness. Once she allows another into hers, she loses that peace and purity of strict selfhood—the night empty of others. It’s inevitable. You never sleep entirely well again once you choose to love. You have been cracked open. You gave away your peace in exchange for the shock of knowing yourself in love. The gain? To be fed again and again, nourished body and soul.

No one lives without destroying something.

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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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Easter Morning

Good morning. Today is Easter Sunday. Lance and I ran into Nancy and Renny on our walk along the bayou. She wore large pink and white fuzzy rabbit ears . . . and sunglasses. “He is risen,” Nancy said, by way of greeting. And then: “He did die for our sins, after all.” That considered, we agreed the least we could do was wear funny bunny ears in tribute to our savior.

The pealing bells of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary fill the sky. Trilling birdsong drifts down from my neighbor’s rain gutter where some loudmouth has built a nest. I have a vague atavistic notion that I should be in church today. There is a distinct sense of uplift in the air. Everywhere I went on my walk this morning, people called out, “Happy Easter!” Does this happen so consistently elsewhere?

I also saw Diane walking her Jack Russell Terrorist, who happens to be named Grace—of all things. I mentioned Easter Mass in passing. Diane shook her head, no. “I’m in church, right here,” she said, as she passed beneath the arms of a giant oak. That’s the spirit. I’m not going to church. I’m staying on the porch with my coffee and Lance and Emily.

Random Chance tossed out the perfect Easter poem.

#712, c. 1863

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

We slowly drove — He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility —

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess — in the Ring —
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain —
We passed the Setting Sun —

Or rather — He passed Us —
The Dews drew quivering and chill —
For only Gossamer, my Gown —
My Tippet — only Tulle —

We paused before a House that seemed
A swelling of the Ground —
The Roof was scarcely visible —
The Cornice — in the Ground —

Since then — ’tis Centuries — and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity —

I’ve been trying to avoid the poems on Emily’s Hit Parade, but this one wanted to jump out today. I’ll try to treat it as though I have never read it before.

Her sense of Death here is a radical restructuring, unheard of before or since. Death is not the enemy or the terrifying, scythe-wielding skeleton. He is a gentleman. The soul of kindness, and nothing if not civil. Here, Emily finally meets her perfect consort. Her courtier. Death pauses in his carriage to bring Emily to their wedding feast. This is not their first date. They have been long acquainted and proceed toward the consummation of a mutually agreed-upon contract.

She goes to him gently, discreetly, as to her lover whom she would have as her husband. He escorts her with the unhurried courtesy of a mature, thoughtful man about to take a wife, not the passionate, rock-and-roll boyfriend. The two of them move carefully toward their sacred union, crossing the threshold by slowly attending to all the relevant details. She soaks in the gradual pace of this journey, as she leaves her father’s house, so that her new husband may bring her to the house he has made for the two of them.

This is the courtship of Emily. No other man would do for her. Any earthly marriage would just be a preamble, and she doesn’t have the patience for that. She was born to wed Death. That means radical honesty, accepting that her life is a trajectory toward that union with death. For her the honesty is the lure, the attraction to Death. All the love affairs in the world are just a shadow play before the main event. All the lovers are merely straw men, stand-ins for the one true mate she knows is waiting for her.

I can see Emily freeze and choke at the prospect of an ordinary, human love. She has to save herself for the real thing, if for no other reason than she just doesn’t have the stomach for pretending. Perhaps Emily is not entirely human herself. Or too human?

Last night Geoff and I read The Marriage of Heaven and Hell aloud, alternating each section in the manner of our “slow reading” of The Symposium. Among Blake’s many trippy insights, the one I held most dear was an observation his speaker made in one of the sections titled: “The Voice of the Devil”. The speaker offers an essential truth that contradicts the incorrect belief promulgated by scripture, chiefly that we must expunge the false notion that Body and Soul are separate. Body is simply an aspect of Soul that can be perceived with the five senses. How New Age, really. This physical life is not fundamentally divided from the life of the spirit, rather it is the concretized portion of it. Whatever we touch we receive through our hands some aspect of an immortal force. Continuing from there, when we depart our bodies, this so-called death is not an end, but a re-working of a thing that remains fundamentally whole. Neither created nor destroyed, but simply changed in form. And a happy Easter to you!

Then we read the best part of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell which are the Proverbs of Hell. My favorite: “Shame is Prides cloke.” Also: “The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” Geoff’s favorite: “The nakedness of woman is the work of God.” Or maybe it was: “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” So many to choose from. In any case, you can see where this was going.

Next Week: Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Do stop in.

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