Why did Emily Dickinson never join a church?
Upon reading many of Dickinson’s poems, one cannot help to notice a consistent theme of spirituality throughout her writings. She mentions God, angels, faith, church and the Sabbath. However, she never joined a church! Even as her friends, siblings and father joined the Calvinist movement that pervaded her Massachusetts’ society, she refused, even saying to a friend, “I am one of the lingering bad ones” (Emily Dickinson Museum). Was it that she thought herself damned? Why didn’t Emily join a church as her loved ones did? Perhaps the answer lies in the era she lived in.
The 19th century was fraught with the urgent fight to blend strict Christian beliefs with that of emergent science. Darwinism, the periodic table of elements, the light bulb, and other scientific contributions to the world cast a shadow over the Christian belief of creationism. Emily had a fierce belief in the sanctity of nature and the world as evidenced by her poetry and personal letters. Dickinson refused to publicize her faith; she was not a church-goer, and her poems about spirituality (along with her other works) weren’t published until after she had died. She had a firm stance on her “self”; in order to remain faithful to her convictions; she felt that “the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel I could give up all for Christ” (Emily Dickinson Museum). In her poem “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—”, she states that by staying at home, she sees God in nature. She suggests that by reveling in the simplicity of being at home for a spiritual celebration, she will go to Heaven instead of having to desperately strive “to get there” as the regular attendees at church seem to do (Poetry Foundation). In Dickinson’s poem, “‘Faith’ is a fine invention”, she scoffs at the nature of people who think that by faith alone will they be saved. She cites that microscopes are prudent, suggesting that science has a part in life that is equal to that of faith (Poem Hunter). Emily furthers her statement that faith is highly personal in her poem, “The Soul selects her own Society—”. She “shuts the Door— to her divine Majority” or that she chooses to take another spiritual path other than that of her surrounding loved ones. She remains “Unmoved” even as images of power pass by her window. She refuses to join into the mainstream belief, which would be irreconcilable with her own (Poets). The poetess openly rejects the Calvinist beliefs of predestination by her own example! Dickinson makes it obvious that she has free will, and is not “spiritually helpless” (Religious Tolerance). While maintaining a relationship with God, as evidenced by her personal life and poetry, she took another route to that of Calvinism. She formed her own beliefs, about the beauty of nature, truth, and simplicity of life at home.
So, why did Emily Dickinson never join a church? I would say that it was her adherent grip on herself, her beliefs, and her own way of thinking that couldn’t possibly allow her to join a church. She couldn’t bring herself to reconcile her opinions with that of the Calvinist movement. Emily Dickinson was her own woman, despite her reclusive behaviour.
Below is a link to a song that exemplifies being in your natural state, being yourself always, and always sticking to your guns, the way Emily Dickinson did in her life. Like Dickinson, the singer, Matisyahu, is a firm believer in the fact that faith is personal. He often uses images of nature in his music.