[Warren]: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
[Mary]: “I should have called it
“Something you haven’t to deserve.”
These lines from Robert Frost’s “The Death of the Hired Man” speak poignantly to the ambivalence human beings experience in thinking or saying the word HOME. In Frost’s stark rendition of that universal ambivalence, husband and wife, Warren and Mary, are confronted with the prospect of a hireling, whom they don’t know or like very well, coming “home” to die. It’s not that many of us have not enjoyed the warmth and safety of a true earthly home; but there is within us all, as faint as it oftentimes is, an abiding nostalgia for the former spiritual one we “haven’t to deserve.”
Sensing his impending death, Silas, the hired man, is drawn to the two people who, more than anyone else in his world, have given him cause to believe he belongs. The following passage finds the couple sitting side by side on the porch steps while the waxing light of the moon suffuses the scene with a muted tenderness that intensifies by contrast the disagreement between them.
Part of the moon was falling down the west,
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw it
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand
Among the harplike morning-glory strings,
Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves,
As if she played unheard some tenderness
That wrought on him beside her in the night.
“Warren,” she said, “he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.”
It is as though nature itself, sensing the importance of the moment, has made itself an integral part of the unfolding drama. And it is Mary’s compassion that helps Warren, despite his many misgivings, begin to recognize in himself the frailty and longing of a fellow human being. It is Mary, the woman, who softly, subtly initiates the redeeming change-of-heart in Warren, the man. The poem thus insinuates that the human enigma of identifying one’s home, where one belongs, one’s identity, one’s self, is intimately linked to the essential difference between the masculine and the feminine and to the creative force inherent in their complementarity.
It is to the source of this complementarity that we now turn to understand how necessary it is for the feminine and masculine to work together in a world where they often appear inimical to each other. In God, they are ONE and it is to this unity that we must aspire, for it is only in this creative unity that LOVE can be expressed and, subsequently, PEACE, achieved. As emissaries of GOD on Earth, we are called upon to contemplate the necessity to balance the masculine and feminine each in his and her own life in order to find one’s home, one’s true self, thus contributing quietly but mightily to the universal PEACE to which we all, knowingly or not, aspire. To this end we must adopt an audaciously optimistic view.
We’ve all heard the expression, a “mountain of debt” but very little of the more daunting reality, “a mountain of doubt.” But the latter is the pernicious common enemy that men and women must confront. In fact, as embodied spiritual beings, men and women, inspired to unity by the masculine and feminine principles, which coexist within themselves, are one. But it is this monumental doubt that compels us to see ourselves as irreconcilably separate. The crucial problem of doubt is solvable but not without the aforementioned optimism, which can only come from belief. Through the years, I’ve found both amusement and enlightenment in Celtic shamanist poet Frank MacEowen’s definition of superstition: “seeing from above.” No amount of logic or willpower can overcome the seeming irreconcilable differences between the sexes. It’s only with the “seeing from above” of faith that the “impossible” can be done.
So where do we start? We must first turn to POETRY, the language of the soul and of faith, to the SYMBOL, our primary connection to God and to our original homeland and, ultimately, to the IMAGINATION, the source of the symbolic life of the soul. Then we must turn to the CIRCLE, universally symbolic of the sun and moon and in many cultures and religions, of God. And lastly, it will be necessary to turn to the MANDALA, dynamic circle of symbolic spiritual transformation; for in the mandala can be found a viable solution to the arduous struggle against the “mountain of doubt” toward an equal and creative partnership between the sexes.
In keeping with the stated intent of “seeing from above,” I invoke the visionary experience of the eminent scientist and theologian of the eighteenth century, Emmanuel Swedenborg. In Conjugial Love, Swedenborg recounts a vision (symbolic/imaginal experience) in which two angels instruct two newly arrived adolescent boys in the realities of Heaven.
[The boys’]… eyes more or less sparkled with an interest in sex, so the angelic spirits said, “Perhaps you’ve seen some women.”
They answered, “Did we!”
Since they had asked about heaven, the two angels said, “Everything in heaven is beautiful and glorious, and there are things such as the [earthly] eye has never seen. There are young women and young men, women so beautiful that you could call them the embodiment of beauty, and men so mannerly that you could call them the embodiment of manners. The women’s beauty and the men’s manners fit together like the pieces in a puzzle.”
This heaven, as envisioned by Swedenborg, is “a universe endowed with a perfectly ‘objective existence and perceived precisely through the Imagination.” (Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, Henry Corbin) In this universe of spirit, there is no conflict between the feminine and the masculine. There is balance. There is complementarity. There is “beautiful and glorious” harmony. It is to this image of creative harmony that we must look for inspiration and encouragement as we seek to “fit the pieces [of] the [fundamental] puzzle” together in physical time and space. It is to this spiritual image of gender equality and harmony that humanity is called because without its embrace, all other crucial relationships (racial, religious, intra/inter cultural) are severely compromised and PEACE becomes ever prey and victim to doubt and fear.
Whether it is apparent or not, whatever separates us as a human family is necessarily a violation of the divine image of gender harmony reflected admirably in the sacred symbol of the TAO. For many Chinese philosophers, this symbol asserts the synergy between the masculine and feminine principles to be the source of our physical universe. Is it simply the physical universe that the symbolism refers to or perhaps principally to the spiritual universe of the Imagination where a creation of another order can take place? This question is of such importance that no attempt at an answer can be contemplated within the limited scope of this essay. And so, it is to the entirety of the next writing that we are compelled to seek some sort of answer, as unsatisfactory as it might turn out be, given that we have come face to face with the fundamental mystery of all human relationship.
In conclusion and in preparation for our next meeting, I leave you with two grim questions and a last hopeful look at the Robert Frost poem with which we began. First, the questions:
• Why has the slave trade, especially of young women and girls, grown into a grievous pandemic wound in the world soul without any visible prospect of healing?
• Why does the LGBT community continue to arouse such angst and even hatred in people who generally appear enlightened and well-adjusted?
Now the hope: It is to the Moon as reflection in our world of the Sun, the eternal circle of Divine Love, that we turn for inspiration and guidance. In “The Death of the Hired Man,” Mary tells her husband Warren to go see for himself the irrefutable pitiful worn-out state that Silas is in.
‘I’ll sit and see if that small sailing cloud
Will hit or miss the moon.’
It hit the moon.
Then there were three there, making a dim row,
The moon, the little silver cloud, and she.
Warren returned–too soon, it seemed to her–
Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.
‘Warren?’ she questioned.
‘Dead,’ was all he answered.
The knell of finality might be read into the word “Dead” if it weren’t for the presence of the moon that Mary had welcomed into a night of disharmony between husband and wife.
Its [the moon’s] light poured softly in her lap. She saw it
And spread her apron to it.
Might not Silas have at last found a place in Warren’s heart and a home where he could die in peace? In so many cultures throughout the world, the moon symbolizes both the feminine and compassion. Might not its tenderness [t]hat wrought on him beside her in the night have effected in Warren a miraculous change of heart? Might not the awakening of compassion (feminine) in Warren stir within him the gift of making things happen (masculine) in the service of understanding, cooperation and peace? In that possibility, might we not find a glimmer of hope for us all?
On the cover of SoulScapes, a book I wrote in 2012, a radiant full moon, much like that in “The Death of a Hired Man,” causes yet again another remarkable transformation. Its reflection on the floor of a pitch-black alcove has somehow transfigured into the luminous image of a mandala. We must remind ourselves that, as a prayer wheel common to so many spiritualities throughout the world, the mandala is a product and instrument of the soul’s Imagination, which reveals, in this instance, a dark alcove to be the interior life of the soul and a dwelling of transcendent beauty. In any number of Eastern religions, Beauty, the face of divine Compassion, turns believers into compassionate human beings who find in women, men and children alike the beauty that had once been hidden from them. Next time, we will walk together the mandala of the Imaginal Way to seek our own inner beauty and home (the self), thus making it possible for us to see Beauty and Home in those we once thought alien and vile.
O Divine Compassion, help our children imagine bright and joyous futures
in a true partnership world.