I think most of the time we live our lives on automatic pilot, blithely be-bopping along listening to the tune of our prejudices and self-serving certainties. This is a problem individually and collectively. But occasionally, reality (or might I say “Reality”) intrudes and we are given pause. As W. H. Auden said, “O blessed be bleak exposure on whose sword we are pricked into coming alive.”
My dear friend, soul-mate, and sweet heart Emily Dickinson knew something about this exposure. In the following poem she poignantly and vividly describes a visitation of this always present Presence:
There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the heft (or weight)
Of cathedral tunes.
Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.
None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.
When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘t is like the distance
On the look of death.
Difference is scary. In literature and philosophy there is a lot of discussion of “difference” and its meaning in our world culture. But difference is scary as hell as we naturally prefer to live in our comfortable, smug little world of certainty. I love the way Emily set this poem up with “There’s a certain slant of light…that oppresses, like the heft of cathedral tunes.” She then addresses the “heavenly hurt” that has been sent and though it leaves no “scars” it does leave the gut-wrenching phenomena of “difference” in our heart.
But who would ever opt for “hurt” of any kind, even “heavenly” hurt?!!!! To mature spiritually, however, we have to find the temerity…and Grace…to fore-go our own interests and need for comfort and allow “difference” to visit us. This visitation makes us acutely aware of our own mortality, of the ephemeral nature of the world we live in, and the connection we have with everyone else…and even with this lovely world itself.