My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
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Eight years ago, Christian Wiman, a well-known poet and the editor of Poetry magazine, wrote a now-famous essay about having faith in the face of death. My Bright Abyss, composed in the difficult years since and completed in the wake of a bone marrow transplant, is a moving meditation on what a viable contemporary faith―responsive not only to modern thought and science but also to religious tradition―might look like.
Joyful, sorrowful, and beautifully written, My Bright Abyss is destined to become a spiritual classic, useful not only to believers but to anyone whose experience of life and art seems at times to overbrim its boundaries. How do we answer this "burn of being"? Wiman asks. What might it mean for our lives―and for our deaths―if we acknowledge the "insistent, persistent ghost" that some of us call God?
One of Publishers Weekly's Best Religion Books of 2013
short, I faked it. There are problems with this explanation. It’s not really my nature, first of all: the theatricality, the willingness to be in an emotional spotlight, the unbottled expression of intense feelings—it all makes me feel a little creepy even thirty years on. It also seems unlikely that one would (or could) forget simulating an experience like this. The deliberation involved, the studied execution, all the excitement and concern of the other people—could all of that really just
sadness and frustration that they have never been absolutely overpowered by God. I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you? Never? Religion is not made of these moments; religion is the means of making these moments part of your life rather than merely radical intrusions so foreign
—FROM “THERE ARE NO GODS” The operative word in these lines from D. H. Lawrence, who wasn’t a conventionally religious person, is “soul.” It’s a word that has become almost embarrassing for many contemporary people unless it is completely stripped of its religious meaning. Perhaps that’s just what it needs sometimes: to be stripped of its “religious” meaning, in the sense that faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first,
persistence of spirit in both Camus and Beckett; the terrible, disfiguring contingency that, in Giacometti’s sculptures, takes on the look of fate. There is genuine heroism here, but there is also—faintly at first, but then more persistently, more damagingly—an awareness of heroism. (Only Kafka seems to fully feel his defeat: he is perhaps the most “spiritual” artist among this group, though he treasures his misery too much ever to be released from it.) This flaw—the artist’s pride—is what made
terrible thing about feeling the inevitability of your own early death is the way it colors every single scene. At some friends’ house I am moved by the beauty and antics of their two-year-old daughter—moved, and then saddened to think of the daughter D. and I might have, for whom my death will be some deep, lightless hole that for the rest of her life she will walk around, grief the very ground of her being. What is this world that we are so at odds with, this beauty by which we are so wounded,