Faith That Aches

This month saw the publication a new volume of poetry from Christian Wiman, Once in the West. Paul Otembra notices “the spiritual ache” coursing through the book:

The poems are continually looking for ways to make something of the frustrations and doubt. This is not the same as trying to make sense of them, and it is uncertain whether these poems believe that is even possible, let alone advisable. Instead, Wiman suggests “to make of the ache of inwardness— // something, / music maybe.” Everything here hinges on that qualifying “maybe.” It is not a shrug of surrender. It is recognition that the singing, while perhaps helpful, is not abundant compensation for suffering. All these poems can claim is to “sing a little nonce // curse / for the curse // of consciousness.” The songs are not plaintive. There is too much edge to the voice for that.

Putting these latest poems in the context of Wiman’s previous writing, Joe Winkler observes the way violence is a preoccupation of his theology:

He finds countless ways, metaphors from all sides of existence, to describe the violence of faith and the faith brought about by violence. Whether the physical violence common in his childhood town: shooting accidents, dead snakes, and birds he kills with a pellet gun, or the violence of “finding Jesus” in front of his church as a youth, or the wounds of belief, the scars of cancers, all of these varied forms of violence cohere into the ultimate wound, for Wiman,  the wound God’s presence or nonpresence leaves behind. For Wiman the violence of the whole of life can’t help but be meaningful, the way a scar is meaningful, a meaning only known to this person through the pain involved. For a few years now, this has been Wiman’s central obsession, a central viewpoint, this “holy flu” of God, the antinomy in which you cannot separate what we turn into opposite categories of evil and good or holy and secular.

You can read one of Wiman’s new poems, “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians,” here. Literary Editor Matthew Sitman’s Deep Dish essay on Wiman is here, and our Ask Anything podcast with him is here.