It’s an honor – and rather daunting – to see my essay on Christian Wiman, “Finding The Words For Faith,” published on Deep Dish today. Wiman’s poetry and prose have occupied much of my thinking over the past year, and this is my attempt at explaining why I find him such a singular, bracing writer. Indeed, as I assert in my essay, I believe he’s the most important Christian writer in America today.
That’s a big claim to make for a poet and essayist who, while certainly having devoted followers, probably can’t be described as famous. As an admirer of his work, and as someone who has pressed his books into the hands of many of my friends, I’m not the best judge of this. I trust that those immersed in Wiman’s work will appreciate my arguments about how to understand him, and I hope that those hearing about him for the first time will be intrigued by his approach to Christianity. Whether or not Wiman is new to you, however, I can say that when reviews of his latest and most important book, My Bright Abyss, began to emerge, I was disappointed. While many were admiring, I thought most skimmed the surface of Wiman’s thought, or focused too much on the cancer diagnosis that threatened his life. It’s impossible to ignore that a rare, incurable cancer nearly killed him, yet his grappling with faith far exceeds that biographical detail. Christian Wiman offers a creative, powerful account of the Christian faith, but I’m not convinced his work has generated the kind of debate it should have.
What I’ve tried to do in my essay, then, is give Wiman’s writing the sustained attention I believe it deserves. We’re living through a time in which Christianity no longer retains its persuasive force, when religious faith can seem anachronistic, obtuse, or irrelevant. My conviction is that Christian Wiman suggests a better way forward, advancing a credible, compelling way of re-imagining the meaning of faith that can connect with all of us doubting, anxious inhabitants of modern America. The essay available to you now is a result of that belief, and an explication of what he has to teach us.
It’s worth noting, too, that Andrew and I sat down with Christian for a conversation about all these matters, which will be released as a podcast tomorrow. You can have access both to my essay and the podcast by subscribing here.