Christian Wiman, a successful poet and editor, lives with his beloved wife, two small children, and terminal cancer. My Bright Abyss is not, however, a memoir of dying; it is an exploration of faith.
Questions about faith have haunted Wiman most of his life, and while many of his answers to such questions fall outside fundamentalist dogma, his commitment to Christ and his understanding of what Christ means are deep and heartfelt. In one of his candid assessments of his own beliefs in the context of 21st-century Christianity, Wiman says, “One of my problems with Christianity is that all talk of heaven seems absurd to me, though I believe that we have souls and that they survive our deaths, in some sense that we are entirely incapable of imagining . . . . I don’t know what it means to say that Christ ‘died for my sins’ (who wants that? who invented that perverse calculus?), but I do understand—or intuit, rather—the notion of God not above or beyond or immune to human suffering, but in the very midst of it, intimately with us in our sorrow, our sense of abandonment, our hellish astonishment at finding ourselves utterly alone, utterly helpless.” Wiman believes, for example, that in the physical agony on the cross, Jesus shares in the thoroughly human experience of feeling “utterly alone, utterly helpless” and that Jesus Christ accompanies him on his own journey through suffering—and through all other aspects of his life.
My Bright Abyss contains an abundance of small selections from dozens of poets and writers. And even if Wiman had omitted excerpts from his own poems, his dense, lapidary prose would proclaim his craft. Images and insights come in brilliant flashes, like lightning illuminating a darkened landscape.