I finished reading My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman this morning. I don’t feel ready to write a review. It takes me a while to savor a book and understand my relationship to it. Also when I read a library copy of a book, I tend to put stickies in places where I would make notations in a copy I owned.
I often make a google doc for notes on a book. I have such a doc for My Bright Abyss. When I finish reading a library book, I sit down and make sure I have copied into that doc all the passages that have stickies. I have as yet to do this with My Bright Abyss.
Christian Wiman has cancer. It could kill him. He is also a poet and a lover of poetry. His wiki entry only gives a birth date so I assume his cancer has not killed him yet. This book is a series of discrete paragraphs and quotations of poetry and prose in which he lays his life alongside Christianity. At the end of the book he says he has lived a “solid year of suffering” in which he has had a “sharp sense of death.” Presumably we readers have lived a bit of this alongside him after having finished his book.
He was raised evangelical and can’t quite shake a lot of stuff that seems to stem from either that or other weird Christian understandings. I think I enjoyed his brutal honesty the most. I like brutally honest Christians I guess. His honesty is, of course, not kind to Christianity. But at the same time he sees his own hunger for God and meaning from the lens of impending death.
Many times in the book, I was put off by his Christianity. But other times I felt that he was articulating ways of thinking that are close to my own:
… to be a Christian has to mean believing in the resurrected Christ, though I grow less and less interested in the historical arguments around this: Did a man named Jesus really rise from the dead three days after being crucified two thousand years ago? The arguments are compelling on both sides, but the whole process of putting faith on trial, the incessant need for an intellectual RESULT, feels false to me. It seems like a failure of vision even to ask the question, much less get tangled up in it.
A few paragraphs earlier he gets even closer:
I am left with the vital and futile truth that to live in faith is to live like the Jesus lizard, quick and nimble on the water into which a moment’s pause would make it sink.
The Jesus lizard. This totally works for me. Also apparently (inevitably?) the name of a band.
Then he mentions that Jesus is not his “friend.”
Christ. He won’t go away. An editor objected to one of these chapters because there was ‘too much Christ’ in it, but I always feel that I am evading Christ, avoiding him, almost as if I am, with the old liberal Protestant reticence that masks a fundamental impotence, embarrassed by him. And yet there is an intensity there to which I can hardly bear to turn, a torn place in my soul, a blood rupture. He is not my ‘friend.’
So there you have it. Wiman seems drawn to classical poetry and quotes copiously from Browning and Tennyson and others. He also likes a lot of Christian poets I don’t and some I do and admire (George Herbert for one).
I relate to his struggle with meaning, faith and art. I don’t always agree with him, but I do believe him.
A Police Chief Turned Pastor, Working to Heal the Nation’s Racial Rifts – NYTimes
Good portrait of David C. Couper. I bookmarked his blog and sent him a Facebook friend request.
John Bayley, Oxford Don Who Wrote of His Wife, Iris Murdoch, Dies at 89 –
Bayley seems to have written some interesting books besides the stuff about his wife. I’ll have to check them out.