Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
This poem from Emily Dickinson makes me smile every time I read it. My comments follow.
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.
Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995
From about 1860 until her death in 1886, Emily lived as a recluse, writing and serving as a caretaker for her family and servants. She left her family’s house only rarely. Today’s poem comes near the beginning of this prolific period of her life.
Imagine Emily looking around, seeing and hearing life in a great outdoor Orchard Dome. Perhaps leafy branches overhead? Like a cathedral dome, this one echoes with music–birdsong, a bell tolling and a soloist. And then there’s that noted Clergyman God, whose sermons are never long. Emily doesn’t need special Sunday clothes. She just dons her Wings and joins the chorus! Is she an angel? I doubt it. I think she’s probably a little bird. Perhaps the Bobolink?
The contrast is clear. Unlike others who keep the Sabbath by going to Church, Emily keeps it by staying at Home. Is this by choice, or due to the circumstances of her life? Probably by choice, temperament and the circumstances of her life.
In any case, Emily isn’t explaining or defending herself. Instead, she imagines a great advantage in her situation. She also suggests there’s more to Sabbath than meets the eye when we confine it to one day out of seven days. In fact, her situation is far better than the one-day-a-week slow track to Heaven.
Emily isn’t arguing a point of theology. Nor is she explaining why she isn’t showing up in church every Sabbath.
Rather, she celebrates God’s presence in the created world, and the delightful participation of all creatures great and small. As she sees it, she’s going to church daily in God’s outdoor cathedral! A mysterious world of truth that invites her to draw nearer to Heaven. Unlike the slow trackers, she doesn’t have to wait until the end to get to Heaven “at last.” She’s going there every day!
For me, this poem is about more than sunny days and a beautiful orchard. It’s also about more than Emily’s religious practices. I hear an invitation to view every day as a day of rest. A Sabbath. Why? Because Heaven is reaching out, wanting to connect with me every day. Not simply one day a week.
As for my part, I don’t need special clothes. I just don my Wings, retreat to the orchard, listen expectantly for nature’s music, join in when I feel like it, and listen to a short sermon from God. I, too, could be going to Heaven all along — with Emily! Even though I may never leave the house.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 March 2017
Photo found at midewinrestoration.net