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I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson
I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson
Kristin LeMay
Paraclete Press, 2012
304 pp., $17.99

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Kimberlee Conway Ireton


I Told My Soul to Sing

Emily Dickinson as patron saint.

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Time and again, LeMay returns to this theme, and this conclusion: that Dickinson was, like the rest of us, a complex person, and that her relationship with God was more like Jacob's difficult wrestling at Peniel than like Pilate's easy washing of his hands before Jesus. She acknowledges that "there is room for doubt about … the spiritual stances I claim for Emily in this book, [but] there is also evidence that they are true."

Much of this evidence, as LeMay lays it out, points to a woman who both believed in God and struggled with doubt, who was disinclined to conventional religiosity but who nonetheless held deep religious convictions, who wrestled in verse with the God whom she sometimes pushed away and sometimes would not let go of. In her portrait, LeMay allows Dickinson the dignity of being first of all a person—with all the complexity and contradiction that being human entails. She acknowledges and even revels in the ambiguities of Dickinson's poems and her person. In the end, LeMay finds ample evidence for "Saint Emily, patron of all who wrestle with God." And this gives her hope, because she wrestles with God, too, and she finds it consoling to know that despite all the struggles and inconsistency, Dickinson, somehow, ultimately, believed.

Because the book takes such a personal tack—LeMay's own story of faith weaves in and out of her readings of Dickinson's poems—some may say that she is reading herself into the poems, that she is seeing what she wants and hopes to see, rather than what is really there. Perhaps. But we're all postmodern here: we know the very act of observation affects the outcome. So I wonder: is Emily Dickinson a particle or a wave? Did she believe or doubt? LeMay's response would be an unequivocal Yes.

Kimberlee Conway Ireton is the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Yearhttp://kimberleeconwayireton.net.

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