Christian Wiman, like most thirty-nine year olds, assumed he had many years of life ahead of him. But less than a year after getting married, he learned he had incurable cancer. Wiman had been raised in a church-going home in West Texas but had moved East to attend college and to pursue an academic career. In his new environs he began to doubt the truth of what he had grown up believing and left his faith for a while.
Wiman is a writer who explores in poetry and essay his loss of faith and his struggle to understand what he calls that “insistent, persistent ghost” that is God. The struggle had begun before he got his diagnosis, but the prospect of imminent death focused his mind on finding truth. Wiman describes his still-continuing journey to find God in his book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. It is a book of meditations on God and who He is and how we find Him or avoid Him, as we are wont to do.
These meditations do not conform to pure Evangelical belief, but then most people’s beliefs do not also so conform. So many readers may find themselves empathizing with Wiman’s doubts and assertions.
Wiman does not have the certainty of unbelief as Julian Barnes expresses in Nothing to Be Frightened Of. But then neither does he have the belief of Neuhaus in As I Lay Dying. He is rather a pilgrim struggling to find truth that he can put his full weight on. He finds he cannot escape the presence of God but wrestles with this overwhelming Other that we cannot fully understand.
The journey you take with him as you read this book will always be enlightening even if everything he says is not in line with your own beliefs. The book is not a page turner but rather could be read as a devotional book as you ponder Wiman’s thoughts on prayer, evil and suffering, the obscurity of God, and unbelief and faith.
As Wiman writes, “Sometimes God calls a person to unbelief in order that faith may take new forms.”