Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Bright Abyss: Christian Wiman (Part 7)


Chapter title in bold below.

Mortify Our Wolves

What is this world that we are so at odds with, this beauty by which we are so wounded, and into which God has so utterly gone?

Part of the mystery of grace is the way it operates not only as present joy and future hope, but also retroactively, in a way: the past is suffused with a presence that, at the time, you could only feel as the most implacable absence. This is why being saved (I dislike the language too, not because it’s inaccurate but because it’s corrupted by contemporary usage, a hands-in-the-air-holy-seizure sort of rapture, a definitive sense of rift) involves embracing rather than renouncing one’s past. It is true that Christ makes a man anew, that there is some ultimate change in him. But part of that change is the ability to see your life as a whole, to feel the form and unity of it, to become a creature made for and assimilated into existence, rather than a desperate, fragmented man striving against existence or caught forever just outside of it.

The single most damaging and distorting thing that religion has done to faith involves overlooking, undervaluing, and even outright suppressing this interior, ulterior kind of consciousness. So much Western theology has been constructed on a fundamental disfigurement of the mind and reality. In neglecting the voices of women, who are more attuned to the immanent nature of divinity, who feel that eruption in their very bodies, theology has silenced a powerful— perhaps the most powerful— side of God.

Nothing is served by following someone into a grave. Somehow, even deep within extreme grief, the worst pain is knowing that your pain will pass, all the sharp particulars of life that one person’s presence made possible will fade into mere memory, and then not even that. Consequently, many people fight hard to keep their wound fresh, for in the wound, at least, is the loss, and in the loss the life you shared.

It is as if joy were the default setting of human emotion, not the furtive, fugitive glimpses it becomes in lives compromised by necessity, familiarity, “maturity,” suffering.

My loves, I love you with all the volatility and expansiveness of spirit that you have taught me to feel, and I feel your futures opening out from you, and in those futures I know my own. I will be with you. I will comfort you in your despair and I will share in your joy. They need not be only grief, only pain, these black holes in our lives. If we can learn to live not merely with them but by means of them, if we can let them be part of the works of sacred art that we in fact are, then these apparent weaknesses can be the very things that strengthen us. Life tears us apart, but through those wounds, if we have tended them, love may enter us. It may be the love of someone you have lost. It may be the love of your own spirit for the self that at times you think you hate. However it comes though, in all these— of all these and yet more than they, so much more— there burns the abiding love of God. But if you find that you cannot believe in God, then do not worry yourself with it. No one can say what names or forms God might take, nor gauge the intensity of unbelief we may need to wake up our souls. My love is still true, my children, still with you, still straining through your ambitions and your disappointments, your frenzies and forgetfulness, through all the glints and gulfs of implacable matter— to reach you, to help you, to heal you.


A Million Little Oblivions

No, to be a Christian has to mean believing in the resurrected Christ, though I grow less and less interested in the historical argument around this: Did a man named Jesus really rise from the dead three days after being crucified in Jerusalem two thousand years ago? The arguments are compelling on both sides, but the whole process of putting faith on trial, the incessant need for an intellectual result, feels false to me. It seems like a failure of vision even to ask the question, much less to get all tangled up in it.

There is another way. It is the way of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading for release from his fate, abandoned by God. It is something you cannot learn as a kind of lesson simply from reading the text. Christ teaches by example, true, but he lives with us, lives in us, through imagination and experience. It is through all these trials in our own lives, these fears however small, that we come close to Christ, if we can learn to say, with him, “not my will, Lord, but yours.” This is in no way resignation, for Christ still had to act. We all have to act, whether it’s against the fears of our daily life or against the fear that life itself is in danger of being destroyed. And when we act in the will of God, we express hope in its purest and most powerful form, for hope, as Václav Havel has said, is a condition of your soul, not a response to the circumstances in which you find yourself. Hope is what Christ had in the garden, though he had no reason for it in terms of events, and hope is what he has right now, in the garden of our own griefs.



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