Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer had me wanting to do something terrible: I wanted to highlight and underline my library book! That is what happens when a poet writes about those moments in life that are inexplicable, those soul moments that make time stop. Wiman is able to put into words the experiences that seem to transcend words.
He has genius moments of clarity: “Be careful. Be certain that your expressions of regret about your inability to rest in God do not have a tinge of self-satisfaction, even self-exaltation to them, that your complaints about your anxieties are not merely a manifestation of your dependence on them. There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion that, paradoxically, unites us with others in a shared sense of complete isolation: you feel at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world” (pg 9-10).
For me, he is able to see through all of the smoke and mirrors, and is able to speak the truth with grace.
One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that it wasn’t just reflections on his life, he also challenges himself, and his readers, along the way. He realizes that “you must not swerve from the engagements God offers you. These will occur in the most unlikely places, and with people for whom your first instinct may be aversion” (21). Beautiful reminders that have me believing that there could actually be some universal truths.
After writing about belief, doubt, death, and life, Wiman writes about faith: “But faith is not a new life in this sense; it is the old life newly seen” (pg 108). And then after writing about his horrible experiences with cancer, he is able to write, “The temptation is to make an idol of our own experience, to assume our pain is more singular than it is. Even here, in some of the entries above, I see that I have fallen prey to it. In truth, experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others” (Pg 162).
Wiman’s book is beautiful and challenging and heartbreaking all at the same time because it is full of clarity and honesty. He begins and ends with a stanza from one of his unfinished poems:
My God my bright abyss
into which all my longing will not go
once more I come to the edge of all I know
and believing nothing believe in this:
“Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us” (Christian Wiman).
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).