Keeping The Clock Wound

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 6

Chronos: our wristwatch and alarm-clock time. Kairos: God’s time, real time. Jesus took John and James and Peter up the mountain in ordinary, daily chronos; during the glory of the Transfiguration they were dwelling in kairos.

~Madeline L’Engle

Continue reading “Keeping The Clock Wound”

When Jesus Wept

The Angers Apocalypse Tapestry, The Tears of St John, Maine-et-Loire: Château d’Angers, c.1373 © Centre des monuments nationaux

G.K. Chesterton

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways, and heard what all men said…
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live

John 11:32–44

32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?”
They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

Revelation 21:1–6

21 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.

There are times in all of our lives when our burdens seem too heavy to bear. Common fears and insecurities, though individually small, can become overwhelming when they pile upon our heart. Some, like the death of a loved one, are large on their own and though none of us are spared, we feel individually assaulted. In those dark days when our clouds deny the sun, it’s easy to believe that God is far and inattentive.

We take some comfort to read Jesus saying “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”, but it is His tears at the grave of Lazarus that reach us. Though the Lord knew He was moments away from raising his friend from the dead, His mighty heart was broken by the grief of Martha. Yes, the resurrection is coming and someday all pain will cease. There’s comfort in that knowledge, but beyond a promise of better days, our Savior comes to weep with us.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

The point is this: the everlasting life that Jesus gives is basically the same on both sides of the grave! Jesus gives life on both sides of the grave! This means that we don’t have to die in order to know something of Christ’s resurrection life. With Jesus, “Life is changed, not taken away.”  This also means that until that day—when “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” as the English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) loved to say—until that day we can be confident that the life of Jesus meets us in our places of pain and torment and suffering, that Jesus’ anger rages against all the things, all the forces of death that cause us to weep; he weeps for us, he weeps with us, and his life-giving presence fills all those places of grief and absence that we know about all too well in our lives. Our tears mixed with his tears. Our tears, when mixed with his tears, flowing together, can actually become the place we encounter the Lord of Life! This means we are people—saints!—that witness God’s new life in the midst of this dying world; God’s resurrection life bring us to life, even in this life marked by tears and pain and sorrow—this is the work of God making all things new!

The poet Emily Dickinson expressed this masterfully:

Savior! I’ve no one else to tell—
And so I trouble thee.
I am the one forgot thee so—
Dost thou remember me?
Nor, for myself, I came so far—
That were the little load—
I brought thee the imperial Heart
I had not strength to hold—
The Heart I carried in my own—
Till mine too heavy grew—
Yet—strangest—heavier since it went—
Is it too large for you?

How have your tears connected you to Jesus?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at


D I G  D E E P E R

Julian of Norwich

She was, by her own description, a simple creature.  Shy and adverse to attention, she was a recluse of self-imposed sequestration. Her room was a cell from which she had limited contact with the outside world and though her writings were virtually unknown during her lifetime, she is a towering pioneer of English literature.

Emily Dickinson?  Yes, but 500 years ahead of her came Julian of Norwich.

Unlike Dickinson who apparently wrote continuously, Julian’s writing is limited to a single known book which has come to be called Revelations of Divine Love.  She just called it Showings.  The book is based on sixteen visions she experienced at thirty years of age: fifteen on May 8, 1373 and another on the following day. She saw visions of the sufferings of Christ and of the Trinity and then meditated on these visions for twenty years.  Her book contains the visions and her interpretations.

So why has this obscure little book from a reclusive woman so greatly impacted literature and liturgy?  For one, it is the earliest known writing of prose by a woman in the English language.  More significance lies in the power of her words.

In his work Seeds of Destruction, Thomas Merton wrote

“Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I grow older, and whereas in the old days I used to be crazy about St John of the Cross, I would not exchange him now for Julian if you gave me the world and the Indies and all the Spanish mystics rolled up in one bundle. I think that Julian of Norwich is with Newman the greatest English theologian.”

Beyond her theological impact, her life has influenced literature as well, including T.S. Eliot.  Eliot found Julian’s hopeful, simple view of the power of God’s goodness to be a microcosm of the church at large.  In Julian the rituals of the devotional life were extensible to the redeeming power of God’s love.  His masterwork Four Quartets cannot be fully understood absent an understanding of his references to Julian and others (including John of the Cross and the writer of The Cloud of Unknowing.)

Rick Wilcox

Eternal Life Is Now

The Triumph of the Church Peter Paul Rubens c.1625

Henry David Thoreau

For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished.  Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest.  My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.

Ephesians 5:15–19

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

RickIt’s only hard to imagine eternal life if you are enslaved by your calendar.  There are actually only two times – then and now, and then is just an illusion.  All of the past you carry like chains has come and gone and tomorrow, as they say, never comes.  Thoreau urged us to simplify and Emily Dickinson said it best with “Forever is composed of nows.”  The distance between now and then belongs to you and is entirely your accountability.  If now is squandered it is forever wasted and becomes regret with which another now is wasted.

In his book City of God St. Augustine wrote “There can be no doubt that the world was not created in time but with time” because “God, in whose eternity there is no change at all, is the creator and director of time.” Your now was the gift you received when God woke you this morning, and not everyone received it.  When scripture speaks of “redeeming the time” it simply means you have a choice.  Your life will be filled with joy if you invest your now in that which is eternal because joy is greater than happiness. Happiness comes and goes because it is dependent on happenings, and let’s face it – bad things happen. Here’s your power in Christ – you are more than your circumstances.


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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.



Forever Is Composed Of Nows

Basilica of the Annunciation

Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –
From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –
Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be

From Anno Dominies –

~Emily Dickinson

The liturgical year is approaching Lent and its days of introspection which proceed Easter.  Joan Chittister observed that liturgical time is the arc that affixes the layers of life. It binds heaven and earth into one and the same rhythm. Rather than give ourselves totally to life as we know it here and now, liturgical time raises our sights above the dailiness of life to the essence of life.

The liturgical year, with its great traversal from life to death to life again, carries us from one pole of time to the other with a sense of purpose and progress. It makes us aware of the presence of the kind of time that is not time, that is not our understanding of time, that is beyond time.



Ecclesiastes 3:1–15

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace. What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. That which is has already been, And what is to be has already been; And God requires an account of what is past.

Dig Deeper

Art: This artistic motif in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth depicts the Trinity along with the apostles and all believers in Jesus gathering to spend eternity together.

Literature: Joan Chittister and Phyllis Tickle, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).<!–em

Dreading the Holidays


POEM 377

Emily Dickinson

At least—to pray—is left—is left—
Oh Jesus—in the Air—
I know not which thy chamber is—
I’m knocking—everywhere—

Thou settest Earthquake in the South—
And Maelstrom, in the Sea—
Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth—
Hast thou no arm for Me

Christmas is just a few days away. For many, that represents a joyful celebration of family – but what if a family member recently died?  What if a family member recently rejected you and now there is bad blood between you?  Maybe you have just lost your job or maybe you are a single adult, feeling like everyone in the world has love except you.  If these storms have engulfed your life, the holidays might only worsen the pain.

There is hope.

The writer Anne Lamott said her favorite prayer is “help me, help me, help me!”  She reminds me of Peter who quickly went from triumph to tragedy when one moment he was walking on water and the next was drowning beneath the waves.  We miss the most powerful part of that story.  When he and Jesus were back in the boat, Jesus gently chided him for his lack of faith.  We tend to believe He meant being distracted by the storm which caused him to sink.  I think it was for thinking that Jesus would actually let him drown.  After that experience Peter never thought of the phrase “Jesus Saves” quite the same

IMG_0181Matthew 14:25–31

And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him,
and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”



A Child’s Heart

The Voyage of Life: Childhood (detail)
Thomas Cole

Emily Dickinson

Dew — is the Freshet in the Grass —
‘Tis many a tiny Mill
Turns unperceived beneath our feet
And Artisan lies still —

We spy the Forests and the Hills
The Tents to Nature’s Show
Mistake the Outside for the in
And mention what we saw.

Could Commentators on the Sign
Of Nature’s Caravan
Obtain “Admission” as a Child
Some Wednesday Afternoon.

Luke 18:15-17

And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them.

But Jesus called for them, saying,

“Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”

RickFor John Steinbeck, as for William Wordsworth and William Blake, a child’s lucid vision captures the essentials. Steinbeck scrawled reminders to himself: capture a “child’s vision” because “adults haven’t the clear fine judgment of children.” That meant to write with precision and freshness. Truth is like clear pure water.

In his book The Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck wrote:

We have not known a single great scientist who could not discourse freely and interestingly with a child. Can it be that the haters of clarity have nothing to say, have observed nothing, have no clear picture of even their own fields? A dull man seems to be a dull man no matter what his field, and of course it is the right of a dull scientist to protect himself with feathers and robes, emblems and degrees, as do other dull men who are potentates and grand imperial rulers of lodges of dull men.

When Emily Dickinson wrote of “obtaining admission as a Child” to Nature’s Caravan, she evoked the words of Jesus who reminded his listeners that entering into the kingdom of God requires doing so as a child. In all of the complexity of such a profound truth, the picture is that of a wide-eyed child whose heart is filled with joy and delight.

Wonder and worship are the beginning of understanding.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

D I G  D E E P E R

 Children in Literature and Liturgy

The relationship between God and his chosen people, often described in the Bible as a marriage, is also figured in terms of a parent-child relationship (e.g., Deut. 14:1; see also Pss. 73:15; 103:13). Occasionally in the OT Gentiles are also referred to as children of God (e.g., Isa. 45:11). In the NT what the Israelites were by birthright Gentile Christians, according to the apostle Paul, could hope to be by adoption: “He hath chosen us. … Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself” (Eph. 1:4–5; see also Rom. 8:15–23; Gal. 4:5). Just as there are children of the flesh, then, so there are also “children of the promise,” and these may be as Isaac was to Ishmael—“not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (Gal. 4:22–31).

The injunction to “honour thy father and thy mother” is prominent among the Ten Commandments and the first commandment with a promise attached. Dependence, trust, and humility are taken as normative in a child’s relationship to his or her parents and, indeed, in that of the children of God to their heavenly Father: “LORD my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty … as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child” (Ps. 131:2). Thus, when Jeremiah was called by God, he pleaded inadequacy in terms of childlike dependence: “Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.” Exemplary obedience and trust are likewise emphasized in the story of the child Samuel, as well as in canonical accounts of Jesus’ childhood. (Extrabiblical childhood narratives, by contrast, are concerned to demonstrate that Jesus’ divine powers were already present in his early years.) Such qualities are also assumed in Christ’s words, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:13–16; cf. Matt. 11:25; 18:3). It was a child whom St. Augustine heard in his garden, saying, “Tolle, lege; tolle, lege” (“Take it up, read; take it up, read”) (Conf., bk. 8). Since Augustine was struggling at this time against (among other things) his Manichaean desires for special knowledge, the child seems to recall not only humility like Jeremiah’s but also the biblical tradition of divine wisdom which is often seen as foolishness in the eyes of the world (1 Cor. 1:18–27).

In English literary tradition Vaughan, Traherne, Herbert, Herrick, and Crashaw among others adopt a posture of comparable humility: each writes poems using a child, or a childlike persona (see, e.g., Herrick’s “To his Saviour, a Child; a Present, by a Child” and Herbert’s “H. Baptisme II”). Chaucer’s Prioress, too, wants to be seen as a participant in this tradition. She realizes that God can be praised “by the mouth of children” as well as “by men of dignitee” (Prologue to the Prioress’s Tale) and so hopes that, like the child in her tale, she might sing a song of praise. But since she neglects her adult and spiritual responsibilities, the apostle Paul probably provides the aptest gloss: “In malice be ye children, but in understanding be ye men” (1 Cor. 14:20; cf. Matt. 10:16). Paul is expressing his displeasure that the Corinthians are still spiritual children at a time when they ought to have developed in the faith. As Augustine puts it, “Let your old age be childlike, and your childhood like old age; that is, that neither may your wisdom be with pride, nor your humility without wisdom” (Enarr. in Ps. 113.2 [NPNF 8.548]; see also Enarr. in Ps. 131.5 [NPNF 8.615).

The Bible has little to say about the innocence of children. Even Christ’s “Except you be converted, and become as little children” (Matt. 18:3) has more to do with humility and obedience than innocence per se. In traditional Christian thought, innocence is attached to infancy but not to childhood. The infant, although guilty of original sin, has not the capacity to turn the inclination to sin into actual sin; hence the phrase “the slaughter of the innocents” used of Herod’s murder of infants (cf. Augustine’s comment that “the infant’s innocence lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind” (Conf., bk. 1).

The notion of childhood innocence arose in connection with the Enlightenment’s rejection of the doctrine of original sin and belief in naturally good human nature being perverted by evil social customs. Rousseau’s Emile is the key statement of this view, although Locke’s philosophy of education had already shifted the understanding of human nature away from original sin to human potentialities and so made the education of children more important—because more promising—than hitherto. Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” is an important Romantic expression of the Enlightenment view of childhood, as are Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience,” which together reflect the author’s gnostic belief that good has to encompass evil but that innocence can be recovered on a higher level of inclusive gnosis.

Victorian literature is characterized by a sentimental view of children. Many of Dickens’s child protagonists, embodying a kind of Edenic innocence, act as parents to their elders, protecting adults who have become victims of an evil environment. Thus Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop embodies both the tradition of the innocence of the child—being contrasted with the evil Quilp and with all the ancient instruments of war which surround her in the Shop—and the tradition of the wisdom of the child—as in her reversing roles with her grandfather (chaps. 15 and 16).

By the end of the 19th cent., reaction to Victorian sentimentality gave rise to a more realistic (and sometimes Christian) portrayal of children as by nature inclined to evil rather than good and deserving to be made accountable for their actions. Literary examples of this changed attitude include Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, Hilaire Belloc’s Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts for Worse Children, and the stories of P. G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse’s early school stories show children as displaying the same good and evil characteristics found in adults.

Increasingly, though, his fiction portrays children as consistently adult in their capacity for evil but lacking in adult social conscience. Wodehouse’s spirited female adults encourage girl children to act on their antisocial impulses. His male adults view with dismay the destructive deeds of their boy counterparts, often expressing sympathy for Herod’s solution to the problem of their continued existence.

Freud’s theories of sexuality in infants support the new antisentimental view of childhood innocence which is reflected in such books as Richard Hughes’s High Wind in Jamaica. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is in the same tradition, having been written, the author says, as a deliberate refutation of the view of boyhood projected in R. M. Ballantyne’s popular adventure story, Coral Island (1858).

Bibliography. d’Ariès, P. Centuries of Childhood (1962); Marcus, L. S. Childhood and Cultural Despair: A Theme and Variations in Seventeenth Century Literature (1978); Stone, H. Dickens and the Invisible World (1979); Walquist, D. J. “The Best Copy of Adam: Seventeenth-Century Attitudes Toward Childhood and the Poetry of Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne.” DAI 39 (1979), 6785A. David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).




The Complete Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890)

POEM 260

“I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there ’s a pair of us—don’t tell!
They ’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”

We all have countless opportunities to nurture genius, but we must be constantly looking for it in unexpected places.  Genius hides behind the shy eyes of a child, often too reclusive to leave her familiar surroundings.  In 1862 Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote a piece in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Letter to a Young Contributor”.  The response he received, written in a peculiar bird-scrawl began, “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?” It appeared to be unsigned until he discovered a small sub-envelope within that contained a card with the shyly penciled name “Emily Dickinson.” Enclosed also were four poems, and his curious and encouraging response led to a three-decade correspondence with Dickinson, she playing a coy “Scholar” and he bewildered and moved by the flights of her mind.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

At nineteen, Emily Dickinson was a cheerful and optimistic young woman and an active participant in the polite, sometimes uptight, New England community in which she had been raised. She attended local dinners and dances, and traveled with her congressman father on trips to Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, and New York. But by the time of her death, this once rather conventional young lady had become an almost mythical recluse who dressed almost exclusively in white, rarely left her second-story bedroom, and spent much of her time at her desk, writing poetry and letters to friends.

What had caused the dramatic shift in her life? Some suggest that a devastating disappointment in a relationship drove her inward. Others postulate that she may have suffered from a psychological malady such as agoraphobia. Or perhaps she just discovered that the place where she really found joy was in the confines of her own creative mind and soul. We’ll likely never know for certain, for though her poems and letters might provide hints, they generally obscure as much as they reveal about this wonderful but puzzling poet.

Dickinson embraced her seclusion, finding in her solitude a place where she could be spiritually transported. How she saw the world and what she experienced in her inner life provided the subject matter for her poems. She was extremely prolific during her short life, penning over 1,700 poems and writing enough letters to fill three stout volumes. These letters and poems reveal the woman she had become: a careful observer of the world and of her own self, someone cynical about easy answers to life’s hard questions, a wrestler with God, and a poet who found her own entirely unique way of communicating about life and death, time and eternity, faith and doubt, the simple beauties she saw in nature, and the exquisite sufferings she felt within her innermost self.

Does seclusion enhance spiritual focus?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

(1830–1886). American poet. A shy recluse from Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson spent most of her life in her home and garden, yet the lines that she penned and stored there have made her one of America’s foremost poets. Dickinson published only seven poems during her lifetime, despite the fact that she carried on a twenty-two-year correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a poetry critic and her acknowledged “preceptor.” Nevertheless, after her death, over 1,500 of her poems were found, and the true poetic genius of Emily Dickinson came to light. Her poetry is characterized by a remarkable economy of style, an intensified use of language, an absence of titles and an experimental use of punctuation. In terms of thematic material, her intense interest in death, immortality and nature led to a rather pronounced treatment of religious themes. For example, she often pictured death as a lover or friend in order to eliminate its horror.

Emily Dickinson’s interest in religion was magnified by her admiration of the Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Their relationship is obscured and uncertain, but she probably loved him and he was at least a spiritual example to her. Nevertheless, despite her connection to Wadsworth and her concentration on religious themes in her poetry, Emily Dickinson spurned traditional Calvinism and the institutional church, and she resisted pressure to join the church. She clearly sets forth her attitude toward organized religion in lines that exalt the experience of nature over church observance. Thus, the eccentric recluse from Amherst, with her cryptic, lyrical lines, has become one of America’s most famous poets—one who wrote about religious matters yet rejected traditional religious institutions.


Goodness should not be invisible. It should not be colorless. On the other hand, it should not dazzle or overpower. It should compel, not impel; attract, not attack.

Modesty is the virtue that presents goodness in its proper color: one of elegance rather than affluence, of economy rather than extravagance, naturalness rather than ostentation. “What a power has white simplicity,” as Keats has aptly written. Modesty is the virtue that allows one to focus on what is good without being distracted by irrelevant superficialities.

Not for Public Consumption

The modest person is content with living well and performing good deeds without fanfare. For him, life is essential, rewards are superfluous. He believes that nature opens to a wider world, whereas ornamentation stifles. He is always averse to gilding the lily. He is confident without being demure, unpretentious without being self-defeating. He lets his actions and words speak for themselves.

Modesty seems out of step with the modern world. As a rule, people are most eager to impress others by recourse to no end of gimmicks. Those who work in the advertising or cosmetic industries regard modesty as a self-imposed handicap. If “nice guys finish last,” people of modesty do not even enter the race. Hollywood, or “Tinsel Town,” as it is appropriately called, is the glamour capital of the world, its chief export being the very antithesis of modesty. It champions style over substance, image over essence.
Despite the arrogance and the artificiality of the modern world, modesty retains an unmatched power. It remains a diamond in the midst of zircons. “In the modesty of fearful duty,” wrote Shakespeare, “I read as much as from the rattling tongue of saucy and audacious eloquence” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). When modesty speaks, its unvarnished eloquence presents that which is as true, dependable, and genuine. Modesty is concerned with honesty, not deceit.

Unwitting Celebrity

Emily Dickinson exemplifies the paradox that modesty, which is unconcerned about stature and reputation, can actually enlarge them. When she was thirty-two, she sent four of her poems to The Atlantic Monthly. The magazine’s rejection of them led her to believe that the public was not interested in her poetry. This belief remained with her throughout the rest of her life, and she never submitted any more of her works for publication. Although she wrote some 1,775 poems over the course of her life, only seven of them were published—all anonymously, and most of them surreptitiously by friends who wanted to see them in print.

“Fame is a fickle thing,” she wrote, “men eat of it and die.” As she stated in a letter to a literary critic whom she admired, “My Barefoot Rank is better.” Her own modest world was broad enough to fill her heart: “A modest lot … is plenty! Is enough.” It was her destiny: “I meant to have modest needs, such as content and heaven.” She did not require much to be transported from one realm to another. A book was sufficient—“How frugal is the chariot that bears the human soul.”

A contemporary American theologian of hers, by the name of Nathaniel Emmons, may have written the perfect summation of Dickinson’s triumphant modesty when he said: “Make no display of your talents or attainments; for everyone will clearly see, admire, and acknowledge them, so long as you cover them with the beautiful veil of modesty.”

One such admirer was the head of a Catholic religious order who confessed: “I bless God for Emily—some of her writings have had a more profound influence on my life than anything else that anyone has ever written.” The general consensus recognizes her as one of America’s greatest poets, and the greatest of America’s women poets. Moreover, she touched people who ordinarily do not care much for poetry. As one critic put it, she is supremely the poet of those who “never read poetry.”

Depth of Character

One of the most basic and vexing problems in moral education is how to make virtue more attractive than vice. In this regard, modesty plays a key role. Modesty is inherently attractive because it invites one to examine the quiet depth of what is there. Display is not as attractive as it is conspicuous. But what is merely conspicuous is often shallow. It is only natural for people to lift up the modest and be turned away by the proud.

The modesty of the following lines that encapsulate Emily Dickinson’s life provide a good illustration of the singularly attractive power of modesty:

This is my letter to the World,
That never wrote to Me—
The simple News that Nature told—
With tender Majesty.

Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see—
For love of Her—sweet countrymen—
Judge tenderly—of Me.

Sources & Resources

Donald DeMarco, The Many Faces of Virtue (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2000), 99–102.

T. Johnson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1960, 1976);

J. Leyda, The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson, 2 vols. (1960);

J. Pickard, Emily Dickinson, An Introduction and Interpretation (1967).

Daniel G. Reid, Robert Dean Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, et al., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).

Carpini, John Delli. Emily Dickinson: Poetry as Prayer. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2002.

Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. New York: Little, Brown, 1976.

Doyle, Connie. “Experiment in Green: Emily Dickinson’s Search for Faith.” The Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Albert the Great.

LeMay, Kristin. I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey


Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

Books Promiscuously Read: Day 3

Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Children are inquisitive and insatiable for knowledge.  This can be problematic, for it often tilts to trouble as any reader of Mark Twain will attest.  We all have childhood stories of ‘that time when’ our appetite for adventure over-exceed good judgement. Fortunately, lucky children also find companions in books with whom they can safely fight pirates and sail starships.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

I remember the titles, pictures, and the words of so many favorite books: the colorful chaos of Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World; the tale of Ralph, the rodent with the helmet made of half a pingpong ball in The Mouse and the Motorcycle; the adventures of the mutt every child wishes were her own, Clifford the Big Red Dog; Casey The Utterly Impossible Horse, that contradicts every girl’s horse fantasy; the story of the inimitable and enviable anti-hero Harriet the Spy; that tomboy of tomboys, Ramona the Brave; the smart and sassy Nancy Drew series; the delightful and whimsical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Where the Red Fern Grows, which left me weeping inconsolably the night I finished it, alone, lying in the top bunk of my bedroom; my favorite horse book ever, The Black Stallion; and Pippi Longstocking. I secretly liked that my dad’s special nickname for me was “Pippi” because of my own freckles and pigtails. I didn’t even point out to my father that my pigtails didn’t stick straight out like Pippi’s did. I remember The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Ever since, I have loved wardrobes so much that my own home is furnished with as many as I can reasonably fit.

Considering Emily Dickinson’s quote today, how did your childhood books help ‘Truth to dazzle gradually’?

John 18:37

Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

D I G  D E E P E R

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (born Dec. 10, 1830, Amherst, Mass., U.S.—died May 15, 1886, Amherst) American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th-century American poets.

Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself. She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts. She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.


Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

John Milton and Areopagitica

John Milton

(1608–74), poet and controversialist. The son of a scrivener, he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1625–32), where he won a high reputation for his scholarship and literary gifts; his famous Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629) belongs to this period. From 1632 to 1638 he lived on his father’s estate at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Having abandoned his original intention of taking orders because of the ‘tyranny’ that had invaded the Church under Abp. W. *Laud, he devoted himself entirely to scholarship and literature. Among his finest poems of this period are L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, which are sometimes taken as expressing the two sides of his nature, torn between the desire for pleasure and the love of meditation and silence. In ‘A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634’ [Comus] (pr. 1637), he sings the praises of chastity in a dramatic poem. In 1637 he wrote the monody Lycidas on the death of a friend, containing a sharp satiric allusion to the clergy, one of his main themes in later years. Next year he travelled in Italy, and after his return moved to London, where he spent many years in political and religious controversy. In 1641 he joined the *Presbyterians and took part in the famous ‘*Smectymnuus’ affair, and about the same time wrote The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy, a fierce attack on episcopacy in which he saw only an instrument of tyranny. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a member of a strongly royalist family. She left him shortly afterwards, and he returned once more to the question of the reform of the divorce laws, writing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he made a passionate appeal for the solubility of marriage on the grounds of incompatibility of character and declared the sanctity and sacramental character of marriage to be a clerical invention. The treatise, which roused a heated discussion, caused his break with the Presbyterians. Its publication without a licence from the censor led the case to be submitted to Parliament and drew from Milton his celebrated Areopagitica (1644) in defence of the freedom of the press.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1095–1096.

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England, pamphlet by John Milton, published in 1644 to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Four earlier pamphlets by the author concerning divorce had met with official disfavour and suppressive measures.

The title of the work derives from “Areopagus” (“Hill of Ares”), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. In a prose style that draws heavily on Greek models, Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth. While the immediate objective of the Areopagitica—repeal of licensing—was not obtained for another 50 years, the tract has earned a permanent place in the literature of human rights.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.


To Time’s Analysis



Emily Dickinson

The Lilac is an ancient Shrub
But ancienter than that
The Firmamental Lilac
Opon the Hill Tonight—
The Sun subsiding on his Course
Bequeathes this final plant
To Contemplation—not to Touch—
The Flower of Occident.
Of one Corolla is the West—
The Calyx is the Earth—
The Capsule’s burnished Seeds the Stars—
The Scientist of Faith
His research has but just begun—
Above his Synthesis
The Flora unimpeachable
To Time’s Analysis—
“Eye hath not seen” may possibly
Be current with the Blind
But let not Revelation
By Theses be detained—

(poem 1241)

1 Corinthians 2:9–10

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.

We all want a rich life. We also know the futility of trying to create it with things that don’t last. The stack of books on my desk tells me we aren’t the first to feel this way, from the nihilistic skepticism which figures so strongly in the novels of writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose The Great Gatsby chronicles a sad cycle of adultery, suicide and murder amid the supposedly lighthearted atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties to Ernest Hemingway’s failed romances and alcoholic anti-hero which usually end up in something like the atmosphere of his ironically titled short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” There the young waiters counsel suicide and old waiters mockingly pray, “our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name,” or “Hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury alludes to and is fully developed around the imagery of Macbeth’s despairing, dying proclamation that life itself “is a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing.”

In  refreshing contrast, Emily Dickinson’s poem 1241, references 1 Corinthians 2:9, one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible which says

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

In her poem (popularly titled The Lilac Is An Ancient Scrub) she takes an exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven.

When we brush up against God, we know it.

True enough, because Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.”

We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come.


The God of creation is still speaking.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


D I G  D E E P E R

Lilacs in the Sun and  Lilacs, Grey Weather

Claude Monet

Claude Monet
Claude Monet

Claude Monet painted these two canvases in the garden of his first home in Argenteuil, near Paris, in spring 1872.

Characters are seated under a bush of lilacs in bloom. One of the two paintings is done when the sky is overcast, the other one when the sun shines. For the first time, Monet put his easel on the same spot to study changes in the light. His intention is made clear by the titles he chose.

According to Sylvie Patin, Chief Curator of musee d’Orsay in Paris, where Lilacs,Grey Weather can be seen, these two works can be considered as the first step in direction of the series, a method Monet would apply systematically ten years later.

~Arlette Cauderlier

Emily Dickinson

41DF6PQbFNL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like many of us, Emily Dickinson loved sunsets, “the Firmamental Lilac.” I live a few blocks away from Sunset Park, a narrow strip of grass and flowers perched on a hill above Puget Sound looking out toward the Olympic Mountains in the west. When the sun sets, especially during the summer, the park is full of neighbors who silently watch as the huge glowing orb steadily slips behind the mountains or sinks into the sea (depending on the sun’s position in the horizon). While the Psalms are full of appreciation for the presence of God in huge thunderstorms, I find sunsets one of the places where I am especially attuned to the goodness of God’s creation.

This poem has a deceptive opening, initially appearing to be another one of Dickinson’s flower poems. The syntactically simple first line is straightforward and blunt. The first thing about a lilac that comes to my mind is its sweet fragrance, but the poet singles out its age; it is “an ancient Shrub.” Dickinson’s garden at the Homestead had several lilac bushes, and their ancient quality is evidenced in the fact that some of these shrubs still bloom today, as you can see (and smell) if you visit Amherst in May. The “turn” that appears in so many of Dickinson’s poems shows up already in the second line of what, for Dickinson, is a long poem: “But ancienter than that / The Firmamental Lilac.” Firmament is a grand-old, King-James-Bible, literary word for sky that permeates the Genesis 1 creation story. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” and separated light from darkness. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.… And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day” (Gen 1:1, 5–8). Sunset, the lilac of the sky, is as ancient as the second day of creation.

But the poem describes the sunset we are witnessing this evening, “The Sun subsiding on his Course” over a nearby hill, which “Bequeathes this final plant.” The day is dying, and the expiring sun leaves as a last inheritance “The Flower of Occident,” the flower of the west. Unlike the ancient shrub of the opening line, however, this plant cannot be physically grasped, or touched. It is left us for “Contemplation.” The stanza breaks here, and the meditation follows in the second stanza.

That meditation opens with an unpacking or explicating of the controlling metaphor of the first stanza: lilac = sunset. Precise botanical terms are used: the corolla is the collective term for the petals of a flower that form a ring around the reproductive organs and are surrounded by an outer ring of sepals; the calyx is the group of sepals, usually green, around the outside of a flower that protects the flower bud; and the capsule is the fruit containing seeds that are released when the flower is mature. Think about a dandelion: its gold petals, green sepals, and mature feathery seeds that are carried away by the wind. Similarly, as a lilac’s flowers fade they develop into brown seed pods. In the sunset, the pinks and lavenders of the western sky are the petals, the green earth the calyx, and the glowing evening stars that gradually emerge are the burnished (shimmering) seeds, as the dying sun gives birth to other distant suns.

This explication uses technical scientific terms, which Dickinson knew from her study of botany at Amherst Academy and employed in constructing her herbarium, and she now mockingly terms herself a “Scientist of Faith,” who conducts “research” and performs the technical activities of “Synthesis” and “Analysis.” Such an approach is limited, however. The research “has but just begun,” and the “Flora” (another scientific term) is “unimpeachable,” impossible to discredit or challenge, so good that it is beyond reproach. Neither unpacking the metaphor nor scientifically explaining flowers/sunsets capture the full glorious reality, which can only be perceived for oneself. Twenty poems about sunsets do not even begin to approach the beauty of a single living sunset.

Line 17 quotes 1 Cor 2:9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The poet takes exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven. Indeed, Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come. Theses, argumentative propositions associated with analysis and synthesis, ought not to detain the magnificent revelation of God granted to us through a sunset. If we open our eyes of faith, with the help of the Spirit, we will see God.


Susan VanZanten, Mending a Tattered Faith: Devotions with Dickinson, ed. Clayton J. Schmit and J. Frederick Davison, Art for Faith’s Sake (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 71–72