The Personalist Project

Three quotes that I came upon this week in separate contexts are gelling for me.

Visiting the Emily Dickinson Museum Sunday, I was struck by these words of the famously reclusive poet:

The Soul selects her own Society — Then — shuts the Door —

The deep truth about the person— that he is a being "created for his own sake" and only fulfilled in his being by "making a sincere gift of himself"—is sometimes (mis)interpreted as implying that we owe intimacy to anyone who wants it of us—as if the fact that I am called to give myself to someone means that I am not allowed to withhold myself from anyone—as if it were selfish to "select my own society."

Then I came upon this passage from Evangelii Gaudium.

We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives.

"Genuine spiritual encounter" can't occur without listening, without openness of heart.

Some might say, "See, Emily Dickinson was wrong to "shut the door" against anyone." I see it differently. I think she was careful in her search for the genuine encounter. She "shut the door" on those who she saw were not listening, were not open to her soul in its sensitivity and particularity, with its unique mission.

Superficial relations, never mind dysfunctional ones, are enervating and depleting and wasteful.

Then I found this, from Martin Buber's I and Thou.

All actual life is encounter.

Comments (2)

Jules van Schaijik

#1, Jul 21, 2016 8:27pm

I like these quotes and thoughts Katie. But perhaps Dickinson went farther then you think. I mean, wouldn't it be okay for her to think that she has enough friends already, more than she has room for in her life, and therefore shut the door on others (even though they are true listeners)?

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jul 22, 2016 9:35am

Yes, true. 

The ability and willingness to encounter another truly is only one among a whole variety of selection criteria.

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