There is an enormous contingent of thoughtful people in this country who, though they are frustrated with the language and forms of contemporary American religion, nevertheless feel that burn of being that drives us out of ourselves, that insistent, persistent gravity of the ghost called God. I wanted to try to speak to these people more directly. I wanted to write a book that might help someone who is at once as confused and certain about the source of life and consciousness as I am.And thus begins a book I've wanted to read for a while now, ever since reading an interview with the author, Christian Wiman, in Christianity Today. Wiman is a Texan and a Baptist--or was; he forsook his faith in college, he says, although he never really departed from a sense of God's ownership of, in short, all things. His career has been distinguished as one of the nation's finest poets, I'm told (I honestly don't know his work).
People say great things about My Bright Abyss, a dense book, they call it; and it promises a great deal. I'm not sure I fit totally within the population quadrant he specifically addresses here, but I'm certainly willing to listen to anyone as thoughtful as Wiman, who makes the claim that contemporary Christian expression doesn't necessarily offer something of comfort to millions of believers.
I just now ordered the book, which means, these days, that it's likely already in my Kindle. Amazing. What hath God wrought right here, a stone's throw from Alton, Iowa?
Wiman found himself a victim of the kind of cancer that lays people in graves long before they should be; and when he was that victim, he found himself returning to the promise of the Christian faith. Like most of us, what he practices is not the old-time religion of his parents or his Texas Baptist roots. It's something else, as it always has to be. Christian Wiman is not his father, even though he is in every possible way his father's son.
But that doesn't mean his father can't rejoice in what has happened because the proximity of death and the reality of suffering brought Christian Wiman home to a place he'd never really left--an abiding consciousness and belief in God almighty.
Thus his mission. In the beginning, what I've typed in at the top is what he says.
For weeks I've had a printout of that Christianity Today interview lying in the mess that is my desk. For weeks, I've intended to quote some things here on this blog. For weeks, seminal quotes from the article have been underlined and marked, scored in the margins. But I haven't touched it, really. Now the book is in my Kindle, and the words that follow the cursor across the page in front of me right at this moment are promising a series of posts about a book that I've looked forward to reading for a couple of months.
So I'm going to try. Every once in a while, look for a dispatch from one of America's finest poets, thoughts from a book of essays widely believed to be something close to prophetic. "[Christian Wiman's] poetry and his scholarship," or so says Marilynne Robinson, "have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world. This puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader's surprise and assent are one in the same."
I'll let you know what I'm reading.