Emily’s Secret (Good) LIfe

Our current teaching series is called Synchronize, our attempt to engage the teaching of Jesus in what is famously referred to as his Sermon on the Mount. We hope that you are able to follow the live teachings on Sundays, or pick up the podcasts. And we certainly encourage you to read along in Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5 through 7. This past Sunday we focused our attention on a small segment in Matthew 6:1-4. We might call it “an ode to the secret (good) life”. You have probably said it yourself at some point: “he lived a secret life”. When we want a way to describe some human failure that has recently come to light, or to try and understand the latest scandal, we often comment, “there was a side to her no one knew about”. We know this as an adequate descriptor because we know this is true about all of us. When we refer to “secret life” we almost always mean to describe the worst parts about us. But consider the possibility of the opposite: the secret (good) life.

On a sunny May day in 1886, the friends and family of Emily Dickinson gathered in in the Dickinson home to mourn her passing. At the time of her death, Emily would not have been much known beyond a fairly small number of people in her town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Those who now gathered for her funeral had no idea that they were mourning the loss of one of the greatest poets of that era. Emily was loved, to be sure, but there was always a mystery to her, a “more than meets the eye” kind of quality. All who knew her knew she wrote poetry -- sort of. A few of her pieces had been anonymously published. And she had at times included one of her poems in letters to friends. But there was a very large part of Emily’s life that no one knew about.

Dickson’s biographer, Roger Lundin, says this about that moment when her family and friend gathered to remember her: “None of them… had any notion of the enormous scope of this woman’s genius or the abiding significance of the work that lay upstairs in a box in Emily’s room.” (Emily Dickinson and The Art of Belief, p. 1). For Emily had secretly written 1,800 poems, some of the best poetry we have in the English language. When that treasure of words was discovered, it was not long until Dickinson’s good secret was exposed.

I love this image and I suggest it illustrates a simple, yet profound way of being: that to practice secret goodness is not only a grace, but the evidence of grace. To celebrate secret goodness is to revel in the fact that our lives are lived before God, the audience of one, and by the grace of Jesus, goodness in disguise. I firmly believe that the goodness in the world is a reflection of the spirit of Jesus, even though most of the time it is not understood that way. So ask yourself: what good could I practice secretly? Could I be so bold as to be generous without fanfare? or to refuse to pass on a rumor and say nothing about it? or to quietly add value and grace to a community without any recognition? You might get found out, but it will be even more fun if your don’t.

We continue our Synchronize series this Sunday at 9:29 and 11:11. As always, the coffee is hot.

Bob Osborne

Ponder these questions: 1. What have you learned about the dynamic of secrets in your life? is it possible to have a secret for very long? have you ever personally known a good secret about someone? how did that discovery change you? 2. What do you think is the heart of reason Jesus told us to keep our “pious acts” secret? Why do we need to learn this way of being? 3. What particular good things might you learn to do in secret?