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Hushed tones to fully rounded ones implored the heavens for peace and justice: Like the balm of Gilead, rare perfume used medicinally in biblical times, harmonies seeped into the marrow of our bones and quieted our spirits. Late afternoon shadows dulled the art glass windows of Westminster Presbyterian Church (1882) that surrounded us.

In the sanctuary, fifteen members of the Missouri Women’s Chorus wearing black tops and pants followed the direction of Scott Schoonover in a selection of contemporary compositions from America, UK, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Canada, and Norway. A moving template of the human family sharing our scarred existence in loving compassion stirred through the audience: Underscored was the plea to listen to each other, a daunting task disciplined by humility and honesty. Such purification rains down peace and justice from the Sacred and obliterates violence.

A praxis for peacemaking further enhanced the performance. St. Martha’s Hall, a shelter for abused women and their children, received donations of food, notions, and clothing from the audience.

And Christine Brewer sat among us.

While I was returning to the parking lot, supported by my cane, I noticed an abandoned two-story office building on the northeast corner of Delmar and Union Boulevards. I shuddered. The space had once housed enterprises whose signage had advertised human endeavors of varied stripes. Gone were the former tenants—My circumstances crowded upon me.

 

 

Crazed hatred stalks the chambers of governments; fuels killings in war zones, in classrooms and back alleys, within wombs; shreds trust in all segments of society; demoralizes familes. In desperate straits, we cry out:

Our Father who art in heaven—We seek the center-point of your silence within our shadowy depths.

Hallowed be your name— Arms outstretched, we prostrate ourselves before your inexplicable holiness. We wait.

Thy Kingdom come—We yearn for color-flushes that alone eradicate the global gutting of psyches.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven—We surrender anew to this empowerment; its multifaceted bliss stirs us.

Give us this day our daily bread—We yearn for spiritual sustenance, one day at a time, which alone fortifies our tentative steps across rocky terrains.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us—We own our violence to ourselves and to others and beg forgiveness; such energize us to forgive others and repair rifts in the social fabric. Our part does matter.

And lead us not into temptation—We beg for discipline to listen for true guidance emanating from within and without.

Deliver us from evil—We pray for discernment to avoid the allure of evil in its multiple disguises.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, both now and forevermore—We rejoice within this freshness and thrive, despite the cloying darkness that still surrounds us. We have the protection.

Amen—And so it is.

 

Still another version of the life of the nineteenth-century American poet, Emily Dickinson, this time a movie, has been released to theaters around the country. Terrence Davies, screenwriter and director of A Quiet Passion, has been captivated by her enigmatic world since a teenager, one that mirrors his own; its production is the highlight of his long career.

But the question remains—Just who was Emily Dickinson? How account for her extraordinary brilliance, given the late Puritanism in Amherst, Massachusetts, that seeped into the warp and woof of life, against which she stormed?

Among the scholarly studies of this poet, Richard B. Sewall’s The Life of Emily Dickinson (1974) presents a multifaceted perspective and affords readers their own take on this woman. By piecing together her correspondence and poems with those in her immediate world, as well as by substantiating his findings with newspaper articles and public records, he contextualizes her. We hear her voice and wonder at its sagacious humor. Fortunately for us, Emily’s pen was rarely idle and her letters, preserved.

But Sewall’s presentation of Emily’s world is unique: it bears his imprint of having been Professor of English Literature at Yale University for forty-two years. Volume I devotes single chapters to the principal players in Emily’s life: grandparents, parents, siblings Austin and Lavinia, Susan Gilbert, and Mabel Loomis Todd—all in relationship through correspondence. And Volume II contains the life of the poet, even further nuanced.

It has been said that the definitive biography of Emily Dickinson has yet to be written, and it must be done by a woman scholar.

There is hope, as Emily proclaims in poem # 314:

 

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