This finally happened to Tennyson. The Spirit through his poetry brought him to a place that was not free of doubt or tears but rather a safe place to weep and be comforted. The resolution to his grief was not an understanding of the mystery of death, but a discovery of a Parental Presence.
Then was I as a child that cries,But crying knows his father near.
You remember, I’m sure, the story of the small girl who was deeply afraid of the dark and employed all sorts of delaying tactics (I’m thirsty and need some water) to ward off going to bed. Her father who understood her fear gently gave her a choice. While she must go to bed immediately, she may choose whether to leave the the light on in her room and dispel the darkness, or leave the light off and have her dad sit with her in the darkness. She always chose presence over light.
But Tennyson’s doubt was more than the consequence of an overwhelming, sudden grief. It had a broader intellectual basis. As is often the case, grief can lead to severe questioning on a variety of difficult fronts. He was suddenly perplexed by the savage cruelty in nature. He saw the violent structure of the food chain and what he saw did not jibe with what he knew of God. Tennyson is the very one who coined the bloody phrase, “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” a phrase that was later used to describe Darwin’s Theory of Evolution although evolutionary notions had not yet surfaced. God seemed to the poet to be out of joint. His love and the negatives in nature were at terrible odds.
As a believer he also found that he could not simply take refuge in the doctrinal system of his church. Platitudes, statements of belief, confessions could not cut through his problem and sustain his faith. He now painfully questioned the very system that had previously kept him going. On what could he rely? His doubt now demanded of him an utmost measure of honesty so as to hold his faith to account. He could not shy away from his mind and still be himself. Deep doubt does not just go away on its own. Would the music ever come? Yes, but not the old music.
Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds, At last he beat his music out. There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds. He fought his doubts and gathered strengthHe would not make his judgment blind.He faced the specters of the mind And laid them; thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own. And power was with him in the nightWhich makes the darkness and the light,And dwells not in the light alone
Tennyson fights through his grief, his problems with the violence in nature, his questions with the creeds of his church, and finds the God who is with him not only in the light but in the darkness. To his amazement he discovers that doubt is one way to have a relationship with God. He comes to a stronger faith by facing the frightening specters of his mind. So must we all. Troubling questions that threaten a belief system don’t just go away for good on their own. They stubbornly refuse to be swept under the rug.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7298