Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Bright Abyss: Christian Wiman (Part 3)

Chapter title in bold below.

Tender Interior

Hopkins was a religious person; he believed in an afterlife. But he seems to have experienced something more complicated than the typical (and, I feel, pernicious) religious sentiment of being happy to be “going to a better place”; the last sentence seems offered as an explanation for the first two: he is happy at the moment of death because he loved his life. On the face of it, this makes no sense: if he loved his life so much, how could he be happy that it was ending so early? The answer, I think, lies in that dynamic of life and death that I’ve just described, that capacity of dying into the life that one has loved rather than falling irrevocably away from it.

What does faith mean, finally, at this late date? I often feel that it means no more than, and no less than, faith in life— in the ongoingness of it, the indestructibility, some atom-by-atom intelligence that is and isn’t us, some day-by-day and death-by-death persistence insisting on a more-than-human hope, some tender and terrible energy that is, for those with the eyes to see it, love. My grandmother, who was in the world too utterly to be “conscious” of it, whose spirit poured and pours over the cracked land of her family like a saving rain, exemplified this energy, and I feel that to be faithful to her, faithful to this person that I loved as much as I have ever loved anyone, I must believe in the scope and momentum of her life, not the awful and anomalous instant of her death. In truth, it is not difficult at all. Nor is the other belief— or instinct, really— that occurs simultaneously: that her every tear was wiped away, that God looked her out of pain, that in the blink of an eye the world opened its tenderest interiors, and let her in.

God’s Truth Is Life

One must have devotion to be an artist, and there’s no way of minimizing its cost.

So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.

I often ask myself why a “Christian instinct” often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, “in brotherhood.”

Contemporary despair is to feel the multiplicity of existence with no possibility for expression or release of one’s particular being.

Our minds are constantly trying to bring God down to our level rather than letting him lift us into levels of which we were not previously capable.

Contemporary physicists talk about something called “quantum weirdness,” which refers to the fact that an observed particle behaves very differently from one that is unobserved. An observed particle passed through a screen will always go through one hole. A particle that is unobserved but mechanically monitored will pass through multiple holes at the same time. What this suggests is that what we call reality is conditioned by the limitations of our senses, and there is some other reality much larger and more complex than we are able to perceive. The effect I get from MacCaig’s metaphorical explosiveness, or from that of poets such as Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath, or Ted Hughes, is not of some mystical world, but of multiple dimensions within a single perception. They are not discovering the extraordinary within the ordinary. They are, for the briefest of instants, perceiving something of reality as it truly is.

Life is short, we say, in one way or another, but in truth, because we cannot imagine our own death until it is thrust upon us, we live in a land where only other people die. “Death is the mother of beauty” is a phrase that could only have been written by a man for whom death was an abstraction, a vaguely pleasant abstraction at that.

Sometimes God calls a person to unbelief in order that faith may take new forms.

Continue to part 4

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