Friday, March 11, 2011

Listen, Learn, and Do: The Holy Spirit Bridges the Gap

As day was dawning one morning in July, 1922, Robert Frost, forty-eight years old, felt “impelled” to write the poem, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. He had, uncharacteristically, stayed up all night writing another poem. It is fascinating to see how he came to write one of his best poems.

Fatigued and yet elated, after finishing the rough draft of the poem “New Hampshire” in one stretch of work, Frost was not immediately aware he had written straight through the night. When he put his pen down and stretched, looking out through the window, he was surprised to see there was light in the east and that the syringa bush at the end of the front lawn was already coming out of darkness. With a sense of unusual excitement, he stood up, walked stiffly to the front door, opened it, descended the stone steps to the dew-heavy grass, and stood marveling less at the dawn than at his night’s work. Never before, in all his years of sitting up late to write, had he worked straight through until morning. Even now, with the poem tentatively finished, he was not ready to stop. There was something else he wanted to write—or felt impelled to write—although he had nothing immediately in mind as a starter.

Back into the house he went, moving through the living room to the dining room almost as though he were sleepwalking. He picked up his pen, found a clean page, and began a lyric that had nothing to do with the dawn of a July day. He seemed to hear the words, as though they were spoken to him, and he wrote them down as best he could, in his fatigue, even though they came so indistinctly at times that he was uncertain what he heard. In a short time, and without too much trouble, he completed these four quatrains.
(Lawrance Thompson and R. H. Winnick, Robert Frost: A Biography (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston: 1981), pp. 26,27.)

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound's the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

This entire poem poises for a moment on one word in the second line of the last stanza, “But.” Here the narrator is perfectly balanced between staying and leaving, then he falls, inexorably, towards moving on.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,

The word “poise” comes from the Latin, pensum, meaning “to weigh”. The narrator stops, weighing his options of stopping, or moving on, but the tension of fulfilling his promises forces him to move on.

Although the promises are abstract in the poem, they have specific references for Frost.

The tensions between his promises to himself as artist and to his wife and family (and others who made demands he often resented) continued to make him feel guilty. Equally serious to him was the feeling that although he had promised himself, years ago, he would do everything in his power to succeed as a poet, he often doubted whether he had the creative energy to keep adding elements of newness to his poetic performance. (Thompson and Winnick, p. 287.)

Frost’s narrator feels that he accomplishes something by resisting the temptation to stay stopped. In human terms, this is an accomplishment in will power, but we are not human, Thank God, we are divine, having the function to follow God’s Will and not our own, not mine but Thine. Not only does it seem to be a human imperative to keep moving, but it also seems to be a manly thing. You can see this in the last four lines of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, If.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

So, there it is, you can decide to inherit the Earth, "But," Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (Corinthians 3:16)

To understand how it is that we tend continually to decide for earthly promises over divine treasures, it is necessary to take a hard look at where everything begins, and thank God, can end. It all begins and ends in my mind. Our minds are like a stage where a cast of characters is acting out the drama of our lives, where there is probably more tragedy than comedy. These characters have well-defined roles, and the best description of these roles comes from Jesus’ unworldly masterpiece, A Course in Miracles. In a Shakespearean playbill the characters would be referred to as Dramatis Personae: Self, Christ, ego, Holy Spirit, and the mechanism of decision, the Stage Manager.

Let’s start with the first character that ever appears in my mind, my Self. I am as God created me.

What Am I?

I am God's Son, complete and healed and whole,
shining in the reflection of His Love.

In me is His creation sanctified
and guaranteed eternal life. In me
is love perfected, fear impossible,
and joy established without opposite.
I am the holy home of God Himself.
I am the Heaven where His Love resides.
I am His holy Sinlessness Itself,
for in my purity abides His Own.

And the second character on the playbill:

What Is the Christ?

Christ is God's Son as He created Him.
He is the Self we share, uniting us

with one another, and with God as well.
He is the Thought which still abides within
the Mind that is His Source. He has not left

His holy home, nor lost the innocence
in which He was created. He abides
unchanged forever in the Mind of God.

Then there is in your mind what is called the ego, a part that split off from your Self, separating into a dream-world of darkness, forever guilty and fearful that it will be punished for its separation. To defend itself, it always keeps preoccupied, always keeps moving, fulfilling promises.

What is the ego?

But a dream of what you really are. A thought you are apart from your Creator and a wish to be what He created not. It is a thing of madness, not reality at all. We name it but to help us understand that it is nothing but an ancient thought that what is made has immortality. But what could come of this except a dream which, like all dreams, can only end in death?

Fortunately, there is a plan in place, God’s plan, and God placed in your mind a bridge between the ego and your Self, the Holy Spirit.

What Is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit mediates between
illusions and the truth. Since He must bridge
the gap between reality and dreams,
perception leads to knowledge through the grace
that God has given Him, to be His gift to
everyone who turns to Him for truth.
Across the bridge that He provides are dreams
all carried to the truth, to be dispelled
before the light of knowledge. There are sights
and sounds forever laid aside. And where
they were perceived before, forgiveness has
made possible perception's tranquil end.

Finally, there is you, Dear Reader, the one deciding which character will take the stage next.. You are experiencing yourself, right now, speaking these words in your mind as they unfold on the page. You are your voice, narrating your life’s drama. As narrator, as Stage Manager, you are the center of consciousness in your mind.

Consciousness is the receptive mechanism, receiving messages from above or below; from the Holy Spirit or the ego. (C-1.7:3)

Your mind is the mechanism of decision, always deciding between listening to the voice below, the voice of the ego, or the voice above, the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Your mind is the means by which you determine your own condition, because mind is the mechanism of decision. It is the power by which you separate or join, and experience pain or joy accordingly. (T-8.1V.5:7,8)

Now the stage is set, the actors are standing on their marks, making last-minute adjustments to their costumes, clearing their throats, and we can take another look at the poem. The narrator stands poised for a moment, but decides to move on, rather than experience the lovely woods. Within the frame of reference of the characters in your mind, you can see that he decides in that moment to listen to the voice of the ego. The ego fears its own loss, and if it stops in its frantic journey, driven by fear and guilt that it may disappear. If it ever stops for a moment to face its Self, that may be long enough to lose itself, the ego’s greatest fear.

This reminds me of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Alice saw him run by, saying to himself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late, actively taking a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, looking at it, and then hurrying on.” (Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice (Norton: New York, 2000), p.6.)

Here is another poem, but in contrast to the first one, this narrator truly stops in silent expectancy.

My Name

One night when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials

in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become—and where I would find myself—
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.
Mark Strand

When the narrator first lays in the grass, his mind is still preoccupied with ego thoughts,

what I would become—and where I would find myself—

realizing at some level that he barely existed. In fact, he does not exist at all as an ego; he is the Self, always, already, here, now, and he stays, and he hears his name,

as if for the first time

because he allows himself to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit whispering to him, and he remembers his Self, his true Identity, his name.

as though it belonged not to me but to the silence

from which it had come and to which it would go.

And this is exactly what Frost experienced in writing his poem.

He picked up his pen, found a clean page, and began a lyric that had nothing to do with the dawn of a July day.

His poem was given him, Voiced from within, not influenced by externals; on a July day he wrote about snowy woods.

He seemed to hear the words, as though they were spoken to him, and he wrote them down as best he could, in his fatigue, even though they came so indistinctly at times that he was uncertain what he heard.
In a short time, and without too much trouble, he completed these four quatrains.

I will step back and let Him lead the way,
For I would walk along the road to Him.


And I heard my name for the first time.

God keeps his promises; His Son keeps his.
In his creation did his Father say,

“You are beloved of Me and I of you

forever. Be you perfect as Myself,
for you can never be apart from Me.”
His Son remembers not that he replied
“I will,” though in that promise he was born.
Yet God reminds him of it every time
he does not share a promise to be sick,

but lets his mind be healed and unified.
His secret vows (But I have promises to keep) are powerless before
the Will of God, whose promises he shares.
And what he substitutes is not his will,
who has made promise of himself to God.

Now, you can see the narrator’s secret vows in contrast to God’s promise to you. We are tempted to keep promises that are of this earth, forms that we can see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. These things are thought-images projected out from a thing that does not know itself, the ego.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,

where moth and rust doth corrupt,

and where thieves break through and steal.

Matthew 6:19

Do you realize that the ego must set you on a journey which cannot but lead to a sense of futility and depression? To seek and not to find is hardly joyous. Is this the promise you would keep?


But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,

where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt,

and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Matthew 6:20-21

The Holy Spirit offers you another promise, and one that will lead to joy. For His promise is always, “Seek and you will find,” and under His guidance you cannot be defeated. His is the journey to accomplishment, and the goal He sets before you He will give you. For He will never deceive God’s Son whom he loves with the Love of the Father.


Frost went on to write poems for another 40 years, often saying that he “lodged a few poems where they can’t be gotten rid of easily,” and we can see in his poetry that he learned to overcome the “But” in order to stop and listen to God's Voice, hearing the words, as though they were spoken to him.

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