My Bright Abyss

I was at Virginia Tech last weekend as the visiting theologian [sponsored by Luther Memorial Lutheran Church], and I got to spend some time with the college students there.  They were GREAT–mostly engineering majors, actually, with one interesting organic farmer-to-be and a few other majors, too–none religion.  They all were very active in the campus ministry there, however, and they clearly had a great enthusiasm for the church.  It was a delight to be with them; and since coming back to Gettysburg, I’ve been thinking even more than I usually do about what the church says about its own existence–not to mention the faith it proclaims and the One to whom it bears witness–to those who are what I might call “nontraditional” believers:  people who live on the boundaries between faith and unbelief; people who spend most of their time with people who aren’t Christian and aren’t really interested in the church; people who go to church, but aren’t sure why much of the time.  [Hmmm….doesn’t really sound so “nontraditional” when I describe it like that:  this may well be the majority of people in mainline churches today.]  Too often, the church seems to have precious little creativity, improvisational skill, humility and grace in its proclamation, choosing to repeat the same words, the same images, regardless of whether or not they actually convey how much Christ and the church [Christ’s body in the world] really matter in one’s own life, and in the life of the world.  I don’t know whether we are lazy, arrogant or ignorant–probably all three.

In light of all that, I just started reading a great book called My Bright Abyss:  Meditation of a Modern Believer, by Christian Wiman.  It’s in the tradition of Anne Lamott, except Wiman is a poet, so it is more philosophical and tender; and he also has cancer, so it is more intense–at least, that’s what I think.  Anyway, it’s really, really good–reflections on faith for exactly the folks I mentioned above [which, the more I think about it, is all of us].  Here are a few quotes, as food for thought–and here’s a link to an interview in The New York Times:

“In fact, there is no way to ‘return to the faith of your childhood’, not really, not unless you’ve just woken up from a decades-long and absolutely literal coma.  Faith is not some half-remembered country into which you come like a long-exiled king, dispensing the old wisdom, casting out the radical, insurrectionist aspects of yourself by which you’d been betrayed.  No.  Life is not an error, even when it is.  That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life–which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change.  It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived–or have denied the reality of your life.”

“Faith is not some hard, unchanging thing you cling to through the vicissitudes of life.  Those who try to make it into this are destined to become brittle, shatterable creatures.  Faith never grows harder, never so deviates from its nature and becomes actually destructive, than in the person who refuses to admit that faith is change. I don’t mean simply that faith changes (though there is that).  I mean that just as any sense of divinity we have comes from the natural order of things–is in some ultimate sense within the natural order of things–so too faith is folded into change, is the mutable and messy process of our lives rather than any fixed, mental product.”

“I hear someone say on TV that one need only think of the million innocent children killed in the Holocaust to annihilate any notion of a benevolent God.  True enough, I think, but that’s a straw god, and not the real one who felt every one of those deaths as his own.”

“To say that one must live in uncertainty doesn’t begin to get at the tenuous, precarious nature of faith.  The minute you begin to speak with certitude about God, he is gone.  We praise people for having strong faith, but strength is only one part of that physical metaphor:  one also needs flexibility.”

One thought on “My Bright Abyss

  1. Thank you for this. Something to check out. (I'm a staunch Anne Lamott fan). My reflection right now: Faith is undoubtedly a gift – an uncertain, unpredictable gift – like life itself. Faith leads us, not the other way around. Thus, the unpredictability. I'm amazed at where faith has led me in my lifetime. It is nice to read and reflect on faith in this earthy way.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s