Saturday, May 10, 2014

Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer and Ana-theism

If I lift out of Wiman's My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer and discover in my reader response a narrative, it seems to follow a philosophical schema conveyed in Richard Kearney's Anatheism: Returning to God After God, which explains a journey from theism to atheism unto anatheism (an underlying experience of enlightened individuals).

Wiman's prose provides ample meditation regarding his east Texan upbringing that formed a loose or vulnerable yet profound grounding in theism. He conveys a wonderful way of holding together and moving beyond the discontinuity and continuity of faith at various levels, such as reflecting on the language of his grandmother and his own well informed language that emerges from his imaginative consciousness and unique poetic style.  Wiman moves to college in the north and is propelled into unraveling the sullied Christian language of modernity and America through the language of poetry exploring themes of spiritual faith and doubt. His doubt we can presume is heightened as he grapples with the reality of having a rare form of cancer. Wiman's journey in this region feels and sounds very much what Kearney describes as atheism, which includes dealing with the bracing and amplifying oscillation of faith and doubt.

Wiman does not disengage but continues to track his existence with language by writing and reading poets, other sophisticated writers and a few well informed theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There is little to no denial of death on Wiman's part; he rather takes it on without illusion as an "unbelieving believer", a person whose consciousness is completely modern and yet who has within him a strong spiritual hunger that cannot be contained. This hunger is fed partly through his weighty experience of love that has grown out of meeting a woman who is now his life partner. Wiman seems clearly to have come full circle moving into anatheism where God may come back to us in the future in a new and radical way.

Wiman portrays with his life in meditation what many American Christians cannot traverse due to the numbing, anxious and blinding dominant scripts that surround, hold and oppress the masses and are co-opted by Western churches. Poetry and other forms of insight (e.g., the cited philosophical works as Kearney and the prison letters of Bonhoeffer) are necessary for penetrating the illusions that surround us, to propel us along and invite us to touch the reality of God with human kind, the kind that echoes, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

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