BELIEF: My Bright Abyss—Hunger by Christian Wiman

Meditation of a Modern Believer

My Bright Abyss—Hunger by Christian Wiman

From My Bright Abyss

When I assented to the faith that was latent within me – and I phrase it carefully, deliberately, for there was no white light, no ministering or avenging angel that tore my life in two; rather it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me, or, more accurately, as if I had happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert and had known, though I was just then discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.  When I assented to the faith that was latent within me, what struck me were the ways in which my evasions and confusions, which I had mistaken for a strong sense of purpose, had expressed themselves in my life: poem after poem about unnamed and unnamable absences, relationships so transparently perishable they practically came with expiration dates on them, city after city sacked of impressions and peremptorily abandoned, as if I were some conquering army of insight seeing, I now see, nothing.  Perhaps it is never disbelief, which at least is active and conscious, that destroys a person, but unacknowledged belief, or a need for belief so strong that it is continually and silently crucified on the crosses of science, humanism, art, or (to name the thing that poisons all these gifts of God) the overweening self.

They do not happen now, the sandstorms of my childhood, when the western distance ochred and the square emptied, and long before the big wind hit, you could taste the dust on your tongue, could feel the Earth under you – and even something in you – seem to loosen slightly.  Soon tumbleweeds began to skip and nimble by, a dust devil flickered firelessly in the vacant lot across the street from our house, and birds began rocketing past with their wings shut as if they’d been flung.  Worse than snow, worse than ice, a bad sandstorm shrinks the world to the slit of your eyes, lifting from the fields an inchoate, creaturely mass that claws at any exposed skin as if the dust remembered what it was, which is what you are – alive, alive – and sought return.  They do not happen now, whether because of what we’ve learned or because the Earth itself has changed.  Yet I can close my eyes and see all the trees tugging at their roots as if to unfasten themselves from the Earth.  I can hear the long-gone howl, more awful for its being mute.

Lord, I can approach you only by means of my consciousness, but consciousness can only approach you as an object, which you are not.  I have no hope of experiencing you as I experience the world – directly, immediately – yet I want nothing more.  Indeed, so great is my hunger for you – or is this evidence of your hunger for me? – that I seem to see you in the black flower mourners make beside a grave I do not know, in the embers’ innards like a shining hive, in the bare abundance of a winter tree whose every limb is lit and fraught with snow.  Lord, Lord, how bright the abyss inside that “seem.”

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