Keeping the Sabbath

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I’m going, all along.

(Emily Dickinson)

I haven’t always loved Dickinson’s poetry (I know I’m not supposed to admit that, as an English prof., but feel that my recent and growing appreciation makes it okay), but I’ve always like this one.  I like the playful tone and I love the last two lines, and I’m also partial to the idea of allowing nature to inspire worship and revelation.

I think that what I like most about this poem is that it reminds me of why I go to church.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?  That’s right.  A poem all about why the speaker doesn’t go to church reminds me of why I do.  Like the speaker, I also find nature to be the best place for personal worship and I shun the artificiality and sense of obligation that are too often part of worship services.  I absolutely sympathize with her, in other words.  But as I reflect on her final jab–that people go to church so that they can “[get] to Heaven, at last,” out of obligation, and that unlike her own worship, going to church is clearly not going all along–I am always led reconfront my own reasons for going to church.

I go to church not out of a sense of obligation–I quite agree with the poem’s speaker that I am free to worship in whatever way suits me and yet remain under the grace of Christ–but because I love to worship with a community.  I like to remember that my own personal worship is made richer by the presence and agreement of others, and that I have something to gain from as well as offer to the body of believers.  Because I am a person who crave solitude more often than company, I certainly relish my own nature-infused worship experiences that happen pretty spontaneously during my days.  But I also need the rhythm of gathering with people to publicly confess my faith and receive that confession from others.  And I need the rituals of public worship, too, though not out of a sense of obligation; my spirit simply demands it.

However you have kept this particular “Sabbath” day, I hope it’s been a good one!


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