11 March 2014

Lenten Reflection: "I cannot live with You"

The Southern Dominican Province sends out daily Lenten reflections to our mailing list. Below is my contribution for Tuesday, March 18th.

A love so big it scares/her, rushing among her small/heart – pushing aside the blood – ”
           (Master Letter, no. 2, Emily Dickinson, 1861).

New England's 19th century la belle recluse, Emily Dickinson, empties her heart out to an anonymous beau, naming her secret love with an honorific that Christian mystics, saints, and saint-wannabes reserve for Christ alone – “Master.” More telling than her chosen-title for her unnamed love is the name she chooses for herself – “Daisy.” Sounding very much like the Little Flower or Catherine of Siena, Dickinson places herself at the will of her Master: “Daisy – Daisy – offend it – who/bends her smaller life to/his meeker every day – /who only asks – a task – /something to do for/love of it [. . .]” So intense is her love (or so brutal is his indifference), that Dickinson claims her self-seclusion like Julian of Norwich claiming her anchorage: “I cannot live with You – It would be Life – And Life is over there –” (no. 640).

Dickinson is the mistress of hesitancy, the unresolved gesture. As Daisy, she resembles the anxious 21st century Christian during Lent – peaked with a desire to be loved but faint at the possibility of being loved by Love Himself. Why? Because Love Himself is overwhelming, demanding, uncompromising. So, we confess: I will be loved. . .on my terms. I will be holy. . .as I see holiness. I will be clean. . .but I chose what is dirty. If Daisy loves the Master and vows to bend her smaller life to his, then why does she end by living without him? She says, “It would be Life.” To live with the Master would be Life. Too much for the Recluse of Amherst.

Is He too much for us? We call Christ “Master.” But are we ready to be mastered?
Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->


  1. You know I liked this . . . I read it out to Drew, who said "I DO like it, too!" So you have two thumbs up in the Russell household! It was even better when I read it aloud.

    1. :-) Emily is always better read aloud. Convey my thanks to Young Master Drew, please.