I have spent the last several months reading a book called My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman. If you haven’t heard of him, Christian Wiman is a poet and writer, and was the editor of Poetry magazine for 10 years. That’s big stuff in the poetry world – Poetry magazine is THE place to publish your poems.
My Bright Abyss is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. For me, this was not the kind of book you read in one or two sittings. I could only handle this book in small chunks at a time, partly because I needed time to digest every word, and partly because Wiman speaks about God and faith in ways that are somewhat foreign to a churchgoer like me. Much of his writing spoke straight to me, and at times it hurt so much that I had to put the book down for a while.
When I say “hurt,” I don’t necessarily mean in a bad way. Wiman wrote not from a place of spiritual formulas and beliefs that I am used to, but more from a concept of grappling with the absence of God, with his own battle with cancer, and with coming to some sense of faith through poetry. Perhaps my discomfort came from recognizing similar feelings in my own life and faith journey, or maybe it means that it’s time for me to see God in new ways.
While reading this book, I noticed that Wiman writes profusely about the spiritual life, but rarely does he write about church. Instead, he writes, “Religiously secure. A brilliant phrase, and not simply because it suggests the radical lack of security, the disruption of ordinary life that a turn toward Christ entails, but also this: for some people, and probably for all people for some of the time, religion, church, the whole essential but secondary edifice that has grown out of primary spiritual experience – all this is the last place in the world where they are going to find God, who is calling for them in the everyday voices of other people, other sufferings and celebrations, or simply in the cellular soul of what is.”
I found this an interesting assumption: that church-goers might, in fact, find it difficult to actually find God in church. Yet when I think of my life, there are many examples of times I’ve found God outside of the church walls: at the ocean, far underground in the depths of a cave, in the heaving tears of my daughter (I tend to envision Gethsemane Jesus whenever someone cries), in the listening ear of a friend, in the eyes of poor Albanian children.
There have also been times when church felt like nothing but a show, a place to wear my mask, to act put-together when really I was languishing inside. At those times, church wasn’t a place to find God; it was a place to pretend in front of everyone else that I’d already found him.
At another place in the book, Wiman writes, “Perhaps that’s just what it needs sometimes: to be stripped of its “religious” meaning, in the sense that faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart.”
So I have asked a few friends of mine to join us in this space on Tuesdays to talk about a time they found God in an unordinary fashion – in a surprising place, experience, or person. I asked these guest bloggers to share about finding God outside of church walls, and to reflect on how that experience shaped their faith. So I hope you will join us on Tuesdays during October and November to read the posts in this series.
(I still have a couple of spots open, so if any of you bloggers out there would like to contribute, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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I also want to say that other than this series, my posts might be infrequent for a while. I feel like I need some time to regroup and reflect, and to figure out where I’m going to go writing-wise. I’ve written about being lost, and I would like to take some time to get found again. I’ll be writing, but it might not be publicly. I’ll try to check in here and on social media occasionally, though. As always, I appreciate your readership and encouragement!