Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book Review: My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman

The book My Bright Abyss is subtitled Meditation of a Modern Believer, but the believer of the subtitle (Christian Wiman) is a poet who deconstructs and inverts the very word belief. It's not for nothing that someone else called Wiman the "atheist Christian." He's fond of apophatic language (describing God, not by what God is like, but by what God is not like), paradox, and the search for meaning in silence despite a loud, modern world set against anything quiet. But this is not Chesteron's sometimes-too-triumphant paradox, it is a true puzzle that no one knows. What shapes Wiman's whole perspective is a seven-year struggle with a rare cancer and the intense intimacy with pain and struggle that comes with that. Wiman also believes that Christ is God and that God was crucified (he also quotes Jurgen Moltmann on this) -- that God was somehow calling out to Godself when he cried "Why have you forsaken me?"

Overall, this book is billed as modern, and Wiman is thoroughly modern, but his perspective on suffering and the cross feels old, like a medieval saint's reflections, with shades of Kierkegaard. This book is hard going at times, just like life is, but it is dense and rewarding. There are a few head-scratching moments, like when Wiman mistakes Isaiah for Elijah, and I would like to know more about what Wiman thinks about scripture's poetry, the stories we share as Christians, although there are frequent enough allusions to it. I'd like to know more. Hopefully there will be a next book, the Gilead to this book's Housekeeping (to continue the Robinson references). I think sometimes Wiman tilts too far toward the question when there is a partial, through-a-glass-darkly answer to ponder. I occasionally found this book frustrating and slow but in a good way, like a hard poem. Wiman's voice is a unique creation and well worth hearing in the harmony of the believers.

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