Alas, my tent! | From an Old Soul

by Elouise

Announcement for my Dear Readers: This is the first of a series. No, I haven’t given up my other series (Early Marriage and whatever comes next). I’m just searching for a sane way of planning my blogging life. So beginning today, I’ll post regular (not daily) comments on George MacDonald’s sonnets for the month of July, as found in his Diary of an Old Soul.

The sonnet for July 1 follows MacDonald’s last entries in June. In one of them he describes a vision he has of himself. He says, “I sit, o’ercanopied with Beauty’s tent, Through which flies many a golden-winged dove, Well watched of Fancy’s tender eyes up bent….”

MacDonald pictures himself as a fancier of golden-winged doves that fly gracefully through his lovely imaginary tent, while “A hundred Powers wait on me, ministering….” This, he says, is his vision of what he is becoming as one of God’s children. He then tells God it’s like a picture on the wall, reminding him of his destination and how far he has yet to go.

The difference between his earlier vision and this lament is stark.

July 1

Alas, my tent! See through it a whirlwind sweep!
Moaning, poor Fancy’s doves are swept away.
I sit alone, a sorrow half asleep,
My consciousness the blackness all astir.
No pilgrim I, a homeless wanderer—
For how canst Thou be in the darkness deep,
Who dwellest only in the living sky?

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press

To whom is MacDonald lamenting, and about what? Something has changed everything from day to night. Something like a whirlwind came through his tent, laying bare the horrible reality of what is now inside the tent—nothing.

What is this tent? His vision of himself? The world as he thought it was, should be or is becoming?

Or did he just receive bad news? Or fail yet again to conquer some demon that strikes him from time to time? Did he stumble and fall when he thought he’d mastered the art of remaining upright?

Something dreadful has just come upon him. A thought? A memory? An experience of some kind? Fear itself? A letter from home informing him of the death of yet another family member?

He doesn’t say. In any case, he’s left feeling utterly abandoned and lethargic. “I sit alone, a sorrow half asleep.” His grand vision of just a few days ago is gone.

And what about that moaning? Were the doves themselves moaning as they were swept away? Figments of his imagination? Or did the whirlwind moan as it swept the doves away? It doesn’t matter. Everything is gone.

MacDonald is barely conscious due to the ‘blackness’ that’s now whirling in his mind. He finds himself in a mapless, chartless place of deep sorrow, with no exit and no destination.

He can’t even call himself a pilgrim. Pilgrims come from somewhere and are going somewhere. He, however, is suddenly left as a ‘homeless wanderer.” A ship lurching around in a whirlwind without any sense of direction. No grand vision. Nothing.

His closing question begs an answer. He seems to be hurling the question at God—almost blaming God for being far away in a ‘safe’ place, untouched by whirlwinds and utterly unfamiliar with deep darkness. ‘Here I am in deep darkness, and just look at You! Up there in that “living sky!” The nerve!’

Yet it isn’t a statement of blame. It’s a question, not an accusation. In fact, it demands an answer from God. Why? Because MacDonald knows there’s only One who can answer him–as there was only One who could answer Job.

MacDonald ends with a question because he doesn’t have an answer. Not because he’s given up on God.

Questions leave room for more. They open a tiny crack in the darkness of despair. Perhaps the beginning of a tiny beam of light? Or a new vision of God and God’s ways with us?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2015