My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

By Burnett, Richard A. | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer


Burnett, Richard A., Anglican Theological Review


My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. By Christian Wiman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. 192 pp. $24.00 (cloth); $13.00 (paper).

Reading Christian Wiman's compact, stunning memoir of his adult spiritual awakening is an exercise in learning to see and name paradox again and again. "Paradox" is a useful running start into Wiman s world of poetry, scripture reading, memory of a West Texas Christian faith-by-rote childhood, and hopeful young adult courage-"hopeful" because not merely optimistic or cheerful. For example, near the books end he lays this on us: "Contemporary Christianity all too often preaches an idea of resurrection that is little more than a means of projecting our paltry selves ad infinitum, and the result is a grinning, self-aggrandizing, ironclad kind of happiness that has no truth in it" (p. 167).

My Bright Abyss reminds me of the work of two other observers: Pascal and Kierkegaard. But while Pensées and Fear and Trembling both take the reader to new awareness of God and God's grace, there is something more raw, more transparent, simply more American in Wiman. His reflections on his rare high-risk cancer confront us with a metaphor for humanity's thirst for God and longing for God's grace in Christ. In this journal-shaped love story-the romantic tale of a man who meets and comes to love a woman who loves that man both in his incurable illness and times of remissionanother love is shown. It is the "pure contingency" of human love that shows God's love so well according to this poet pilgrim, as the gateway into the paradox of prayer, as he and his wife, "though we'd been away from any sort of organized religion for years-began praying together. The prayers were at once formal and improvisational, clear spirited but tentative, absolute but open ended.... It was human love that reawakened divine love. Put another way, it was pure contingency that caught fire in our lives, and it was Christ whom we found-together, and his presence dependent upon our being together-burning there" (pp. 22-23).

Such burning challenges confront us throughout this short work. What are we to say to this award-winning poet and past editor of the venerable Poetry magazine when he challenges: "So long as faith is something that 'withstands' the assaults of reason, experience, secularization, or even simply the slow erosion of certainty within my own heart and mind; so long as the verb accurately describes the dynamic between my belief and all that seems to threaten it, then faith is an illusion to me, a dream that weakness clings to, rather than the truest form and fruition of strength" (p. …

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