The Enlightenment of the 1700’s released a torrent of scientific innovation into the next century, including the introduction of laboratories; the improvement of instruments such as microscopes which led to the discovery of germ theory by Louis Pasteur; the rise of women in the field of nursing, made famous by Florence Nightingale; and the first women doctors in the United States, notably Elizabeth Blackwell (science museum).
Dickinson’s poem 185 declares,
“Faith is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see –
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.”
In this climate of innovation, discovery and the promise of emancipation for women and the end of slavery as the American Civil War loomed on the horizon (Donnaway), Emily Dickinson struggled, not with loving Christ but with reconciling her experience of his love with what she perceived to be the constraints of the Puritan ethic, prejudice and the grief and loss of war.
She wrote to a friend, “I was almost persuaded to be a Christian. I thought I never again could be thoughtless and worldly – and I can say I never enjoyed such perfect peace and happiness as the short time in which I felt I had found my savior. But I soon forgot my morning prayer or else it was irksome to me. One by one my old habits returned and I cared less for religion than ever…When I am most happy there is a sting in every enjoyment. I find no rose without a thorn. There is an aching void in my heart which I am convinced the world can never fill. I am far from being thoughtless upon the subject of religion. I continually hear Christ saying to me Daughter give me thine heart…” (Knapp 29-30).
Have you ever felt pulled in a million directions by the call of worldly pleasures, griefs and obligations? Have you experienced the intense joy of communion with God’s Holy Spirit, only to find yourself before the day is over arguing with someone you love or worrying desperately over this month’s bills?
Have you experienced a tragic loss that has left a void in your heart and your life that you thought only one person, or occupation, or pleasure on earth could fill?
Do you wonder if you’ll ever find your place in the world, and how success should be measured? Have you asked, Can I give myself fully to Christ and still have a life of my own? Have you run to Jesus, and then at the last minute, turned and run the other way?
God is not unaware when we face all kinds of challenges. Listen to what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with temptation he will also provide you a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).
Not only does God provide us with a way of escape from temptation and sorrow; when he makes a way, he also helps us to move forward.
Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages us not to lean on our own understanding, but to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and 1 John 1:9 gives us the assurance that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ESV).
None of us has what it takes to cleanse ourselves of our own mistakes, and we can’t see far enough into the future to find the clearest path in the right direction - and we’re not intended to. When we feel lost, confused or alone we only have one job and if we remember to do it, it’s the easiest job in the world. Jesus makes a way when we hear him say, “Daughter, give me thine heart”:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).
Come to Jesus. He has everything you need to give you peace, hope and a future.
“And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –“
“Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine: Science and Medicine”. n.d. science museum. Web. broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/themes/science. 11 March 2019.
“Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine: Women in Medicine”. n.d. science museum. Web. broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/themes/practisingmedicine/women. 11 March, 2019.
Dickinson, Emily. “Faith is a fine Invention”. Poetry Foundation. n.d. Web. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48184/faith-is-fine-invention-202. 11 March 2019.
Dickinson, Emily. The Seagull Book of Poems. 4th ed. Ed. Joseph Kelly. 79 - 83. New York: Norton, 2018. Print.
Donnaway, Laura. “Women's Rights Before the Civil War.” n.d. Web. people.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1984-5/donnaway.htm. 11 March 2019.
Knapp, Bettina L. Emily Dickinson. New York: Continuum, 1991. Print.