BELIEF: Teasing Toward Faith by Christian Wiman

Meditation of a Modern Believer

Teasing Toward Faith by Christian Wiman

From My Bright Abyss

I have read so much theology in the past few years, yet in conversations with other Christians I am consistently made conscious of being in some way balked when trying to describe my notions of the nature of God, the meaning of the cross, Christianity’s place with regard to other religions, etc.  It isn’t that these conversations aren’t productive, but inevitably their benefit, for me at least, inheres wholly in the contact with another person of faith rather than in any new foundation of knowledge.  I am less frustrated with this state of affairs than I once was, so maybe I have learned something from all those years of forcing myself to formulate my positions on poetry, from convincing myself that I knew my own mind.  And perhaps the relation of theology to belief is roughly the same as that between the mastery of craft and the making of original art: one must at the same time utterly possess and utterly forget one’s knowledge in order to go beyond it.

To say that one must live in uncertainty doesn’t begin to get at the tenuous, precarious nature of faith.  The minute you begin to speak with certitude about God, he is gone.  We praise people for having strong faith, but strength is only one part of that physical metaphor: one also needs flexibility.

I tell myself that I have no problem believing in God, if “belief” can be defined as some utter interior assent to a life that is both beyond and within this one, and if “assent” can be understood as at once active and unconscious, and if “God” is in some mysterious way both this action and its object, and if after all these qualifications this sentence still makes any effing sense.  Clearly, I do have something of a “problem.”  Poetry, fiction, meditative or mystical writers along the lines of Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhart, Simone Weil – these things tease me toward faith, make me feel the claim on my being that is much stronger than the “I” that needs belief, the “I” for whom faith is doctrine rather than identity (“You are in me deeper than I am in me,” as Augustine puts it).  Hard-core theology, on the other hand, tends to leave me cold, even when – perhaps especially when – it convinces me.  I honestly don’t know whether I am describing something essential about the way we know God or merely my own weakness of mind.

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