O we can wait no longer,
We too take ship O soul,
Joyous we too launch out on trackless seas,
Fearless for unknown shores on waves of ecstasy to sail,
Amid the wafting winds, (thou pressing me to thee, I thee to me, O soul,)
Caroling free, singing our song of God,
Chanting our chant of pleasant exploration.
Away O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Sail forth—steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all
Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, Passage to India
I have been writing & speaking what were once called novelties, for twenty five or thirty years, & have not now one disciple. Why? Not that what I said was not true; not that it has not found intelligent receivers but because it did not go from any wish in me to bring men to me, but to themselves. I delight in driving them from me. What could I do, if they came to me? — they would interrupt and encumber me. This is my boast that I have no school & no follower. I should account it a measure of the impurity of insight, if it did not create independence.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his journal, April 1859
A noiseless, patient spider, I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated; Mark’d how,
to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament,
out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—
seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch
somewhere, O my Soul.
A wise man once said “Truth is never threatened by investigation. Lean hard on her for she will not topple.” This week we conclude our study with an unblinking consideration of doubt. If the just are saved by faith, what shall become of the doubters, and more so, can doubt ever be fully reconciled with the Christian life?
I struggled against God. Not as many do. But still I did, in my own way. I didn’t doubt his being. I doubted his ways. I doubted that his ways were better than my ways. I doubted the ways of his people, too. Even so, I wonder more that an airplane can fly than that the God of the universe exists. Granted, my doubt in airplanes is rooted in my ignorance of physics. But might the same apply to our understanding of God? My struggle against God’s ways only reinforced my belief in him. After all, one doesn’t struggle against something one doesn’t believe in. One doesn’t rail against someone one thinks does not exist.
Promiscuous reading has humbled me in showing me that “there is nothing new under the sun.” As real and as important as any questions I have might be, I’ve seen that they are not unique to me. There is comfort in this, and chastening, too. Somewhere between universal truth and utter solipsism is a unique self, but the preponderance of that self, like all other selves, is the image of God that all selves share. There’s more of him in us—in me—than anything else. Even the ability to doubt him, to struggle against him, to wonder at his ways is rooted in him. Certainty seems bigger than me, skepticism smaller. Wonder is just right.
How is wonder an answer to doubt?
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
Walt Whitman, was unique. His Leaves of Grass (1855) was new in form and in content. Whitman wrote about his country in a way never done before. At first the little book of strange verse seemed a failure. Emerson, however, recognized its greatness, and now most people agree that it was the first book of truly American poetry.
Here, at last, was the fresh, distinguished bard destined to create an art wholly American. Through Whitman’s poetry the new nation is caught in its largeness, its variety, and its great energy. One’s-Self I Sing and his major poem, Song of Myself, are brilliant and complex utterances of the human spirit freed in the New World.
Walt Whitman’s poems are a love letter to his country. To accomplish his purpose of singing the praise of the untrammeled American spirit, Whitman forsook the confining poetic forms of his day. His poems are melodic chants, suited to the ear.
Readers around the world have turned to Whitman as the spokesman for the new democratic society. No poet has celebrated that society with more enthusiasm or more poetic genius than Walt Whitman. His verses are a striking contrast to the neat meters and rhymes of conventional poetry previously written. Since Whitman’s death, his writing has influenced many other American poets.
“American Literature,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).
Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com 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 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.