I have been reading a biography of Emily Dickinson called My Wars Are Laid Away In Books by Alfred Habegger. I will probably write more about what I’m learning in another post. Tonight I’d like to write about a cultural difference between Dickinson’s time (1830-1885) and today. Emily lived in a very religious culture, Calvinistic, and was often in a church or revival-situation or school in which the condition of her soul was of great concern. This was a culture of evangelism, a culture of “the saved” and “the reprobate,” a culture of talking about spiritual things.
I am also from a Calvinistic culture, but there are great differences. What I am a part of is a sub-culture, not popular, not mainstream. My church family means a good deal to me, and my church does take some efforts to evangelize, but we don’t have any great revivals. Despite wishes to spread the good news, we have a tendency to stick to ourselves because we understand ourselves. And even within our own community of believers, we do not make a habit of talking about the condition of our souls. We are not timid to call ourselves “Christians” so much as to make the distinction between being saved and not being saved. I say “we” but I’m really talking about my own perception of the people around me.
Emily Dickinson was pressured to become one of the saved. Her saved family members wanted to be sure they would have her around in the next life. (Emily was resistant to these efforts, and that is all I’ll say about her soul. In the next life we’ll see if she did convert or not.)
In my life, we talk about heaven with hesitation. Unless you’re my daughters. They ask all sorts of questions about heaven, and it is clear they believe it exists. I believe it exists, too, but I suppose my hesitation comes from not wanting to sound too weird, too radical, too overly-religious. I am all those things, but I don’t want anyone to know. And that is different from the people Emily lived with.
I think a little pressure in the spiritual side of life might be good for folks. Get them thinking about their soul instead of hiding it or ignoring it. But I don’t like the thought of being the first one to start these conversations.