Tell it slant

art 01“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” Emily Dickinson advised. “Too bright for our infirm Delight / The Truth’s superb surprise / … / The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.”

Someone, unquestionably well meaning and hungry for something more, once asked after one of my sermons (back in the days when I was still bold enough to call them “sermons,” assuming all the legitimacy and authority the term tries to claim): “So, what’s the bottom line?” She thought, apparently, that I had left the sermon unfinished, the point undelivered.

“There is no bottom line,” was all I could quickly muster for response, meaning to say to her, “You’ve got to get to the bottom line yourself. I can’t say it for you.” It turns out all these years later to have been a pretty good response, one with legs, as they say.

After thirty-five years of living with the scriptures as part of my vocation, and wrestling with them in my life and the lives of others, I would have thought (at the beginning) that I might be somewhat closer to understanding what I was doing, or what the scriptures were doing with me.

Au contraire mon ami. More often, when I give my best attention to what I’m doing, I find myself confronted and silenced by Great Mystery. I also find that when I try to tell even part of the truth, it wants at once to come from a progressively deeper inner place and to fend off my closest observation. Slant seems to be the only way truth allows itself to be told, at least through me and anyone else I’ve heard or read who is worth hearing or reading, though some seem to come a bit closer than others.

William Alexander Percy put it well: “I have a need of silence and of stars; / Too much is said too loudly; I am dazed. / The silken sound of whirled infinity / Is lost in voices shouting to be heard. / … / An undermeaning that I caught I miss / Among these ears that hear all sounds save silence, / These eyes that see so much but not the sky, / These minds that gain all knowledge but no calm.”

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” These days I crave honest hints more than bare, plain truth.

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