A poet approaches the Almighty with halting steps.
In the shadow of a recently discovered cancer, Poetry editor Wiman (Every Riven Thing, 2010, etc.) rediscovered faith. Not the faith of his Baptist, Texas youth, but a faith first steeped in the unbelief of modernism. Here, the author attempts to understand and elucidate that faith, and he writes as if readers may not believe him. Thus, he acts as an apologist, but to himself as much as to others. Indeed, Wiman is careful not to allow himself belief in traditional Christianity, but only in a vague and open, yet Christ-centered idea. “Faith is nothing more…than a motion of the soul toward God,” he writes. “It is not belief. Belief has objects—Christ was resurrected, God created the earth—faith does not.” Structured in short sections, some practical, some wholly creative, Wiman infuses his writing with lyricism and a playfulness with language (“if nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness”). He augments his own mastery of language with the liberal use of quotations from other poets and writers, spanning an impressive range of literary backgrounds. Wiman’s depth of knowledge as a reader truly undergirds this work, as he invokes everyone from George Herbert to Simone Weil, Dietrich Bonheoffer to Seamus Heaney. As the author struggles to understand God, he also struggles to comprehend the institution of Christianity, seeing in it deep flaws, an inability to fully grasp the depth of the God it proclaims, and what he sees as a childish clinging to legend and myth. “Even when Christianity is the default mode of a society, Christ is not,” he writes.
At times poignant and focused, at other times vague and meandering, Wiman’s grasp of the written word carries this unconventional faith memoir.