Are we in purgatory? The screaming sea of media and humans and texts and creations are overwhelming until they are not. And then, sometimes, you find yourself alone, but not alone. The noise is gone, but you are fully engaged in it. In a car, in bed, in the dark, in silence, these things simply are not there.

Before the Internet, sensory deprivation chambers were all the rage. There were billboards advertising these places where sound, sex, temperature, light, vision, heat, and movement ceased. You were dead to the world, but your heart beat on. You were alive in only one discernible place, your mind. It was said to be therapy, but it was clearly not good enough to cover its costs. Moreover, the tidal wave of New Stimuli has crashed down in a tsunami of distraction to the point where my two hours of silence every morning during Lent seems pretty selfish.

Emily Dickinson lived a life where she had one foot in each world. In the here-and-now, she helped keep the family household but not much else. Her friends and her love were elsewhere, touched only by paper. We can only image that endless expression filled her mind until it touched that paper.

Departed to the judgment,
A mighty afternoon;
Great clouds like ushers leaning,
Creation looking on.

The flesh surrendered, cancelled
The bodiless begun;
Two worlds, like audiences, disperse
And leave the soul alone.

Her other world, beyond the paper, was her own. Endless thought, for her own review only. Her sea of isolation and focus was the flip-side of the day-to-day. But, like with Scripture from 2,000 years ago, time does not kill connection.

More than anyone I can think of, Dickinson lived between two worlds, in a purgatory of sights and sounds — the clouds, the faces, the noises of life — and the parallel, fully present world of her mind. Definitely the world of insight and the facility that was given to her — and to all of us — were undeserved and unearned. She is now fully departed, her body surrendered, cancelled.

Between “two worlds, like audiences” we are, every day, both/and. Lent, to me, is a purgatory. You are here, now. But you are then, too. Two thousand years ago. You are also considering the reality that death is inevitable, instant, and yet defeated by life’s continuation beyond your here-and-now. And by that thing that happened 2,000 years ago, no matter what it was.

Emily saw the end of this life as a way to obtain the next one. No longer on two feet, one standing upon necessity and the other on understanding. Necessity leaves us, and Emily saw the triumph of understanding.

The flesh surrendered, cancelled,
The bodiless begun;
Two worlds, like audiences, disperse
And leave the soul alone

You can never be alone in the here-and-now. Even sensory deprivation chambers proved not-enough. Eating, talking, making money, even cyber-living connects you to everything that is not you. And in Lent, in reckoning with a death from 100 generations ago, we are likewise alone, but never alone.