Monday, October 7, 2013

Christian Wiman’s “My Bright Abyss”

I spent three months reading a 177-page book, Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. I read a number of other books during the same time, but My Bright Abyss was never far from my mind.

Some days, I could read only a paragraph. I spent two weeks in London, and did not bring the book with me to read on the plane. It was too much; it would have been too much to read and assimilate at one time.

So what happens when you learn you have a terminal disease that may, or may not be controlled? How do you make sense of it? And what happens when you stop one day in the church on your block, and are pulled back to the faith you learned in childhood, that faith that was often cold and hard like a West Texas wind?

One thing you do is keep a journal.

My difficulty with My Bright Abyss was not one of shared experience. I don’t have a serious illness like cancer. My difficulty lay more in how much of what Wiman writes about illness can be applied to growing older. Minutes pass faster, sometimes so fast that you realize, as Wiman does, that “strictly speaking…the past and future do not exist. They are both, to a greater or lesser degree, creations of the imagination.”

Growing older, I suppose, is a kind of death. I’m learning that, as I age, some things are more sharply focused. Not more importantly, necessarily. More focused. Clearer. I understand as I never did before how much two or three teachers shaped my entire understanding of literature.  Never before did I understand how important the idea of death is to literature.

Wiman talks much of death, and not only about the possibility of his own. The idea of death powerfully influences every younger poets and writers, because it represents an intensity of experience, one that slips or falls into a vanishing point.

Wiman, for years the editor of Poetry Magazine, is now on the faculty of the Yale Divinity School. In January, I reviewed Every Riven Thing, a collection of his poetry. I noted My Bright Abyss was being published. I said it sounded like a Psalm 23 experience. I was only slightly right.

What he wrote in his journal ultimately became this book. Like all journals, it has long and short entries, sometimes a single thought or a poem, followed by several paragraphs or a longer essay.  Sometimes years separate the entries.  This seems to me to be a lot like life.

I read My Bright Abyss, and I come to understand that each life, including my own, is an unfinished poem. Each life always will be.

Top photograph by Alex Grichenko via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Maureen said...

Fine post, Glynn.

I look forward to seeing what's next for Wiman while he's at Yale. It would be amazing to study with him.

Anonymous said...

this writing takes time to read, as it is full and ripe in so many ways.

page 30...

"I have come back, for now, even hungrier for God, for Christ, for all the difficult bliss of this life I have been given."

difficult bliss

Jerry said...

Thanks for reminding me that I have his book on my kindle. I am home sick today and found I have read only 4%. His book Every Riven Thing is on my purchase list now.

"I read My Bright Abyss, and I come to understand that each life, including my own, is an unfinished poem. Each life always will be."

I concur.