BELIEF: Some Wordless Mystery by Christian Wiman

Meditation of a Modern Believer

Some Wordless Mystery by Christian Wiman

From My Bright Abyss

When I was young, there was a notion among the believers I knew – and I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t a believer – that to feel the presence of God required that one seek God constantly, that one’s spiritual instincts demanded the same sort of regular exercise as the muscles of one’s body.  The great fear was not that God would withdraw, but that one’s capacity to perceive him would atrophy.  I think of this when I hear people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, or when I hear believers, or would-be believers, express a sadness and frustration that they have never been absolutely overpowered by God.  I always want to respond: Really?  You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you?  Never?  Religion is not made of these moments; religion is the means of making these moments part of your life rather than merely radical intrusions so foreign and perhaps even fearsome that you can’t even acknowledge their existence afterward.  Religion is what you do with these moments of over-mastery in your life, these rare times in which you are utterly innocent.  It is a means of preserving and honoring something that, ultimately, transcends the elements of whatever specific religion you practice.

O hunger
Where all have mouths of desire and none
Is willing to be eaten: I am so glad
To come accidentally upon
My self at the end of a tortuous road
And have learned with surprise that God
Unworshipped withers to the Futile One.
(Patrick Kavanagh, from “Auditors In”)

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