October 16, 2018

Sunday with Christian Wiman: No half-remembered country

Eagle Creek Path (2017)

Sunday with Christian Wiman
No half-remembered country

In fact, there is no way to “return to the faith of your childhood,” not really, not unless you’ve just woken 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.

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (p. 5)

Comments

  1. Michael Z says:

    I don’t think it would be healthy or even possible to give up a lifetime of deepening understanding of God just to get back to something that feels simple and safe. But I also wonder if sometimes the nostalgia we feel for our childhood faith is because we’ve left behind some “forgotten treasures” of faith that we could still go back and reclaim.

    When I was a very young Lutheran, I experienced God through a sense of wonder and mystery and imagination. As a teenage evangelical, I read the Bible cover to cover out of a conviction that it could help me figure out how to live, and I found the whole text of Scripture fascinating and bizarre and surprising. As a college-aged Pentecostal, I was willing to take risks like praying for someone’s healing and really believing that prayer could be answered. As a young adult, I was part of the “social justice renaissance” in evangelicalism, when for a while it seemed that we could become a force for good and address some of this country’s lingering institutional sins.

    I wouldn’t want to completely go back to the way I understood God and faith at any of those times in my life, but those particular aspects of my past faith are all things that I hope to be able to reclaim and incorporate into my current walk with God.

    • Actually, I think you are affirming what Wiman says. His experience was of leaving faith altogether and coming back to faith as an adult. And he says, in a case like that, we must not view the time in-between as exile where God was absent. Your experience, on the other hand, is one of moving from one kind of faith to various other iterations of faith. It seems to me that you are doing just what Wiman suggests — bringing your whole life to your present experience of faith.

      • Michael Z says:

        Yeah, I wasn’t trying to take issue with the quote, just musing about why I sometimes find myself so homesick for certain aspects of that “half-remembered country,” and how that feeling can help enrich my faith instead of becoming something that leads me to turn my back on things I’ve learned since then.

  2. Samuel Conner says:

    I suspect that this is also true of groups and institutions, and while “deepening understanding” is desirable in the individual — “If you get one thing, get understanding” — it seems to me that in practice it’s often problematic in institutions. Nearly 2000 years of theologizing and devising forms of polity that serve the concerns that the devisers have considered uppermost might lead to places that are not so good. “Is Christ divided?” In fact, yes, assuming that what we see today is indeed “the body of Christ” (which I grant as a judgment of charity, though I wonder about it).

    I find the work of people like NT Wright and (lately, thanks to the IM ‘blogroll) Andrew Perriman refreshing as a glimpse of “what it may all have originally meant.” That, to my mind, is mighty useful for present application.

  3. johnbarry says:

    I still sing , well hum “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know”, taught it to my children and their children. We change , Jesus and his love does not. First and Only Book of John Barry , chapter 1.

    What can be better than a four year old granddaughter singing Jesus Loves Me or really any other song but again that is the love of God being shown.

  4. God has gotten so much bigger and so much more mysterious as my walk has progressed that my faith can’t help but change. That’s the Holy Spirit working, I guess, illuminating in order to increase and change my faith.

    But aren’t there also times when we just have to boil it down to as simply as we once did: I believe just because I believe…?

    • John and Rick, of course, there are the simple comforts of faith. I don’t think he is denying that. Rather, he is encouraging those of us who had childhood faith, then abandoned it, and then came back, to resist the temptation to think that the time in-between was wasted or does not contribute to our faith.

      • Hi, CM!

        Sorry if my comment sounded argumentative. I meant it to be more “complementarian.” There are times our faith is built and formed, and there are times when “simple faith” is all we’ve got. Well, it’s all I’ve got, anyway…

  5. senecagriggs says:

    What, exactly, is Christian Wiman? Is this a pseudonym? A feminist statement?

    • An author and poet, seneca. One of the very best writers of our day.

    • Hey, Seneca…here’s something that might blow your mind. The Seattle Seahakws used to have a linebacker whose name was Dave Wyman. Odd name, right? I never thought it might be a pseudonym of a woman, ya know, ’cause shoot, “Wyman” and “Woman” are so close. Never even considered it might’ve been a woman running around out there, hitting men off their feet. Thanks for helping me realize there are sneaky folks out there, just dying to fool us folks!

      This is odd, too: this same Dave Wyman does Seahawks post-game shows, and I could swear he looks like a man.

      • And what of Billy Wyman, onetime member of the Rolling Stones? Another woman in drag? I wonder if the rest of the Stones were onto the ruse…

        • Then there’s Jane Wyman. Perhaps she was really a “he”. Oh, now there’s a controversy we can stir up!

  6. Ronald Avra says:

    Personally, I haven’t even had to step outside of the Bible for my faith to change. Persistently reading through the years, I’ve noticed details previously unobserved, and occasionally realized in some instances that my perspective wasn’t substantiated by the text. I’ve become decidedly more cautious in representing my opinions as fact and truth.

    • Awesome observation, Ron, and one which I can attest to personally.

      And you might find this interesting…
      After Saturday men’s group this past weekend, following discussion of Luke 8:16-21 (specifically v18 “So take care how you listen…”), one of the guys said : “Wow, I’ve never really thought about what that meant before!”

      Love those learning moments, even when they come for someone else!

      • Brianthegrandad says:

        Help me out, rick. I recall the light/lamp story. I just reread it a few times, and yes, that part about listening had never registered with me before. So… what were you discussing such that your friend had an epiphany as to its meaning? I’d love to know. And I’d love to know what you think it means.

        • Gotta run, Brianthegrandad, but I’ll come back to this later.

        • Okay, I’m back.

          We really keyed in on the number of times Jesus mentions “hearing” and “listening” in Luke 8:4-21. Jesus’ “So take care how you listen” seems to be the centerpiece and key theme of this whole section. We interpreted it as “There’s listening, when it goes in one ear and out the other, and then there’s LISTENING which is attentive, leading to the point of action.”

          What struck some of us this time, including the guy who had the epiphany, was the relationship between listening (LISTENING listening) and being recognized as a part of Jesus’ family (v21). To paraphrase this section, maybe, it becomes… If you have a listening heart, then you will hear the Good News and it will take root and become a light, and you will put that “listening” into action, conveying to the world the light that comes with the Good News. And then, when you put what you’ve heard into action, then I will call you brother or sister.

          Bottom line…we see a relationship between a willing heart, an attentive ear, the light of the Gospel, and being considered a member of Jesus’ family. And LISTENING, attentive and active LISTENING, seems to be a key.

  7. Christiane says:

    Hello Senecagriggs,
    Wiman came from a small West Texas town, and ended up teaching at Yale University . . . his journey cut short by cancer, sadly,

    here’s a sample of his poetry, an excerpt of “From One Time”

    ” . . . I say God and mean more
    than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
    I say world and mean less
    than the abstract oblivion of atoms
    out of which every intact thing emerges,
    into which every intact thing finally goes.
    I do not know how to come closer to God
    except by standing where a world is ending
    for one man. . . . ”

    Seneca, Christian Wiman knew he was dying and may have written this poem after the diagnosis, but if someone like Chaplain Mike wanted to understand more the feelings of dying people, in order to be able to better minister to them in hospice, then the poetry of Wiman is something well worth reading in my opinion. I’m glad it was shared here with us, myself.

    The ending of this particular Wiman poem is breathtaking in its beauty and simplicity. You might want to look it up and read the whole thing in context:
    https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/from-one-time/

  8. senecagriggs says:

    I’m gonna stick my neck out here and suggest “Christian Wiman” is actually the lady’s “pen name.”

    I’d be interested in why she chose that particular name.

    • It’s a man, seneca, and it’s his real name.

    • Why your continued insistence on this, Seneca? Your continued provocation make no sense. I don’t see the spirit of God or Christ in you at all here, only a spirit of dissension. Please consider why you post these types of things here. It doesn’t feel of Jesus to me.

      • Christiane says:

        Hello Rick Ro.

        I think Senecagriggs should have a voice here. I’ve been on some sites where if you didn’t agree enough with the group, they would vote to get you off the island, and I always thought that was a sign that these people weren’t hospitable enough to be on Christian blogs, since they couldn’t accept a ‘person’ whose ideas might differ from theirs. By just being ‘Christian’, we are at least to listen to people and try to understand them.

        You want to see what I’m talking about, go over to SBCtoday and check THAT out. Whoah!
        It got so bad with the core group’s ‘negativity’ that one of the administrators attacked Wade Burleson with some truly terrible comments, and I think that it was the viciousness of the negative group’s influence that drove the administrator to engage in a kind of discourse that was far below anything he had ever done before. He resigned. THEY, the core group, are still there, and they are still as negative as can be. I was kicked off of that blog because one complaint was that I did not address the issues; in fact, I did respond to a post about transgender issues very directly, this:
        http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/survivor-transgender/

        If Imonk becomes ‘exclusive’ here, it wouldn’t be the same blog, in my opinion. It would still be a blog, but it would have lost something of its character which is unique and much appreciated by many of us.

        • Hello in return, Christiane!

          I hear ya, and in case you’ve missed it in past blog posts/comments, I’ve been very supportive of SG having a voice hear. Sometimes that voice helps me see things and view things from an angle and perspective I am not familiar with or agree with, and helps me understand the thinking BEHIND that perspective.

          This particular post, however, seems to have only one purpose: provoke. It’s like “J” or “Witten” or the guys/gals who would pop in every now and lob their atheist grenade, then sit back and enjoy the carnage. SG’s posts on this particular thread offer nothing constructive, and when a guy like SG begins losing support from guys like me, who used to wave the flag of “let them have a voice hear,” well….that takes some doing.

          If he wants to engage in the topic at hand, fine. If he wants to take the conversation off in some inane direction, not fine.

          • hear = here. I haven’t had my coffee this morning.

            –> “… when a guy like SG begins losing support from guys like me, who used to wave the flag of “let them have a voice hear,” well….that takes some doing.”

            I want to offer a humorous personal example, too. I’m a University of Washington alum and thus a huge Husky fan. Several years ago the school hired Ty Willingham to be the football coach. Me and my neighbor (also a HUGE fan) were fans of Willingham and of his employment.

            Following his okay first year, the team began to enter a decline. The fan base began calling for Willingham’s firing. Me and my neighbor stood by the man as our coach, saying, “He’s okay, give him some more time.” Then the team got worse, yet me and my neighbor remained supporters of his and his approach.

            Then began a year in which the Huskies went winless (0-12!!!), and it was in the midst of that year that my neighbor and I looked at each other and said, “Okay, if it’s gotten bad enough that WE want Willingham fired, it must REALLY BE BAD!”

            Always beware when supporters begin to turn. That’s a sign that something you’re doing has gone over the edge…LOL.

          • Christiane says:

            I guess I ought to be banned too, then because I sometimes read someone’s post and then go off on a tangent that ends up ‘bird-walking’ . . . . . example:
            today’s Istoria Ministries (Wade Burleson’s blog) . . . . I did respond appropriate in the beginning on topic with a relatively good comment (I think it’s good);
            but THEN,
            my old friend (very dear to me) with whom I agree politically on absolutely nothing, began telling wonderful stories about BEARS . . . . so I responded. . . . . pretty soon, we were going back and forth with ‘bear’ stories (his were better by far), and it was entirely off topic . . . . . but no one else was commenting so I guess we didn’t feel guilty and maybe Wade (who is very kind) won’t mind too much;
            but yeah, I’m as bad as the next one for off-topic, and I know it.

            Now, I don’t judge my friend who is older than me and tells the BEST stories ever simply because he is a born story teller with a great gift and Wade loves his stories. But I have no excuse myself.
            Someday, I’ll be banned from every place that bans people who bird-walk off topic, but I can’t bring myself to want for others to share the same fate. I think folks need to tell their stories, in whatever words of ways they can, and after a while, something of salient importance will emerge and that is worth waiting for, for their sakes and for those patient enough to care about them and to listen to them.

            Thanks for responding. If you want to share a bear story, don’t do it here. Try Wade’s blog. My friend will love you for it! 🙂

    • Seneca, as a struggling Evangelical trying to make a wise decision about what to do next, I want you to know that it is comments like this one that make me want to leave evangelical churches forever. A simple Google search shows who he is. Being obtuse does not help your cause.

    • Ronald Avra says:

      Did you totally ignore Christiane’s post, Seneca?

  9. Pellicano Solitudinis says:

    I know nothing of this writer or his work, but that is about to change. Thank you for sharing these pearls. There are so many wonderful things that we only discover because others have shared them with us.

  10. Christain Wiman’s faculty page at the Yale Divinity School website gives his bio. It makes no mention of his death but it does give an office phone number and an email address. Seneca perhaps you’ll give him a call?

    He just published a new memoir, He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art, which does discuss his cancer diagnosis among other things.

  11. Speaking of authors who write through their terminal illnesses, I highly recommend Kate Bolwer’s “Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved)”.

    https://katebowler.com/everything-happens-reason-lies-ive-loved/