Christian Wiman is an American poet and editor. He was born in 1966 and raised in the small west Texas town of Snyder. He graduated from Washington and Lee University and has taught at Northwestern University, Stanford University, Lynchburg College in Virginia, and the Prague School of Economics. Wiman now teaches Literature and Religion at Yale University and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
My son, Andrew, who just graduated from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, was fortunate enough to have a class with Wiman and come to know him as a friend.
In 2013, Wiman published a book entitled My Bright Abyss. It is an essay about having faith in the face of death.
At age 39, he learned that he had a rare and probably fatal cancer. His world fell apart. In the midst of his suffering and pain and fear, life felt meaningless. However, as the book ends, he is in remission.
He regained his health because of obvious medical treatment, his marriage, and his twin daughters who were born during his illness. He also credits his remission to his own will, art, desperation, and imagination. He gained his faith and felt grace. In his words, he experienced the mystery of “present joy and future hope.”
I am currently reading the book. Weeks ago when I started it (no, it should not take me this long to read this book, but Mama and work and life often get in the way of reading), I immediately loved it. Nine pages in and I was already underlining phrases. One of those that I truly loved was this:
“If grace woke me to God’s presence in the world and in my heart, it also woke me to his absence. I never truly felt the pain of unbelief until I began to believe.”
Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. We also, sometimes, don’t realize our emptiness until we experience fullness.
I love the title. My Bright Abyss. How great is that? Can a word, a thing, like an abyss actually be full of light? Be completing? Create “present joy and future hope”?
Occasionally the pounding of hooves is not a horse, but a zebra. And occasionally an abyss is not dark, but bright.