Skip to main content

i told my soul to sing: finding God with Emily Dickinson by Kristin LeMay




I told my soul to sing: finding God with EMILY DICKINSON by Kristin LeMay

In the struggle with faith, doubt and discovery Emily Dickinson finds a unique place in the writing of poetry.  In this new book, I told my soul to sing by Kristin LeMay, the author seeks to capture Dickinson’s widening struggle with the things of God, and in turn, tells her own story.  LeMay divides the chapters in the book by larger themes; belief, immortality, mortality, doubt and prayer, and many other themes.  Rather than make a weighty conjecture about Emily’s belief for or against Christianity, LeMay seeks to draw out her struggle with God while listening to her poetry revealing this same struggle.

In the first chapter on Belief, LeMay brings to the surface a most illuminating point about conversion in Dickinson’s life.  She writes, “Let me say that again: Emily used her poetry as a means for her own conversion…To borrow the traditional language of the church, poetry was Emily’s means for working out her own salvation…Emily wrote poetry, “ ‘I work to drive away the awe,” Emily explained, “yet awe impels the work” (27).  Earlier in the text, LeMay describes that Emily never formally gave a profession of faith for her fear of “being deceived into a false profession due to the excitement in the air” (22).  The artistic 

Emily wrote poems of turmoil amidst poetry which elicits praise or trust.  In the chapter on doubt, LeMay provides a grip of the Apostle’s Creed in which she guesses at how Emily might have answered with two sections, one concerning belief and one about doubt (44).  We get a hint that LeMay might be close to Emily in these categories of belief and doubt.  I don’t disregard doubt and its place in the life of every Christian but I think to say it negates belief misses the mark.  LeMay has on the doubt side of the chart the virgin birth, the resurrection, ascension, judgment, the church, forgiveness of sins and resurrection of the body.  I’d like to look at this in Dickinson’s writings to see if there is an explicit place to go in her writings for a chart like this.  Nevertheless, to not believe the linchpin of Christianity, the resurrection is a little like not believing in the Quran for a Muslim.  It’s confusing to say that the least that one can profess belief in Jesus Christ without the resurrection. 

One of my favorite sections in the book was on God, where Emily writes about how we speak of God as everywhere but act like he is a sudden guest in our gatherings.  “She notes our collective silliness: God can neither come nor go…..But it’s not God who’s missing and must be found.  Emily is right: “that stupendous” never goes away” (125).  This is a most peculiar thought, the notion of the omnipresence of God and the seemingly ludicrous way we treat him like a surprised guest at our homes.  Even the world God created bears witness to his presence but we treat him as an amused spectator.  In the poem Lemay mentions, it seems that Emily is pointing out that people expect a sudden rush of revelation that God is here but treat him mostly like a guest that’s rarely around.   I think LeMay captures something of the genius of Emily’s poetry, not pushing and pulling it apart but allowing the words to wear on our present thoughts.

Overall, I enjoyed this book as it pushed to re-read Emily Dickinson and her creative mind.  Rather than solve the riddle of claiming Dickinson a heretic or saint, she seeks to reveal the struggle Emily had with traditional forms of belief.    LeMay identifies with Dickinson in her use of language for the divine, in her reticence for acknowledging the full weight of creeds, and the struggle for belief, which provides a unique kind of book.  I hope this book allows others to see the way poetry can be an expression of wrestling with God and his world.

Much thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
Misperceptions, misconnections, and missed observations are just some of the issues that Timothy Snyder raises in his book, Black Earth, concerning the Holocaust.  Snyder, no stranger to the frontlines of scholarship on the Holocaust, with his previous book Bloodlands, that concerns the land from Hitler to Stalin, takes a look at the Holocaust from new sources and new avenues of thought.  How did some nation-states survive relatively unscathed from Nazi persecution while others, notably Jewish populations, succumb to a wave of killings?  Also, what was the role of the Soviet Union in the war and how did Stalin effect changes in the Final Solution?  These questions are only two of the many that Snyder answers in his detailed account of the Holocaust.
One of the best chapters was entitled The Auschwitz Paradox.  Generally when the public thinks about the Holocaust, we think of Auschwitz first or at the top of our mental m…

the great spiritual migration

The Great Spiritual Migration by Brian D McLaren

Brian McLaren and his own pithy way brings to the foreground and emphasis on a new kind of Christianity. The kind of faith that Brian envisions is a kind of migration not been set in the bedrock of beliefs that is unmoving but rather shifting with both culture and with faith. His new book the great spiritual migration is exactly that, a pointed work that encapsulates a vision towards the future where Christianity is changing and its peoples lives are changed as well.

Brian states in the introduction, "but we also know that for a lot of people Christianity is malfunctioning, seriously so, and it's not pretty. This kind of frustration with conventional Christianity is what McLaren gets gets to at the heart of this message is concerned with a number of different clusters unbelief. One, namely that Christianity has been stuck in a set of propositions or beliefs that has controlled churches in the faith, rather then a spirit of love t…

NKJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson

NKJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishers
Growing up with the NIV, the NKJV was not a bible I was familiar with.  This new NKJV Study Bible takes all of the features of the Thomas Nelson Study Bible and makes them better.  Right out of the box I noticed that the Bible was considerably lighter than most study bibles I have read.  Further, the text font was much larger than most study editions, although I’m not quite sure of the size. The aquamarine color was a great touch and the Bible was finely put together, enduring the wear of many coming years of use.
Why is this Bible worth the purchase?  First, the study notes were great for extra handling of particular confusing and messy areas of Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.  Yet, the study notes aren’t an obstruction to the reading of the biblical text.  Clearly, the editors have taken great care in making the text stand out and the notes illuminate certain themes and areas of Scripture.  Second, the NKJV takes into account all t…