Contemporary poet embraces Christianity

One of the most important publication in the contemporary literary world is Poetry Magazine.  Its editor is usually a distinguished poet.  Lately, the editor of that periodical, Christian Wiman, stepped down from that position.  What is, perhaps, less known is that several years ago Wiman embraced Christianity.  He writes about that in a new book that will be released April 2, My Bright Abyss:  Meditation of a Modern Believer.  In his book of poetry Every Riven Thing, Wiman writes about his struggle with cancer that led to his discovery of God.  After the jump, read his poem by that name and an excerpt from a fascinating interview in Christianity Today.

Every Riven Thing

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into the stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.


From the Christianity Today interview by Josh Jeter:

How did you arrive at your Christian faith?

I was raised in West Texas as a Southern Baptist, in a culture and family so saturated with religion that it never occurred to me there was any alternative until I left. Then it all just evaporated in the blast of modernism and secularism to which I was exposed in college. Or, it didn’t evaporate, exactly, because I never would have called myself an atheist. But religious feeling went underground in me for a couple of decades, to be released occasionally in ways I never really understood or completely credited—in poems, mostly.

Then about 10 years ago I fell into despair. There is no other way to say it, really, nor do those words do anything but hint at the abyss. Whether it was cause or effect, I went through a writing drought unlike anything I had ever known—three years of it. In the midst of this—miraculously, it now seems to me—I fell suddenly and utterly in love with the woman who is now my wife. I still couldn’t write, but the despair was blasted like a husk away from my spirit.

We found ourselves saying little prayers together before dinner. They were almost jokes at first, and then, increasingly, not. We’d been married about eight months when I got a surprise diagnosis of an incurable cancer, and the encroaching darkness demanded that the light I felt burning in me acquire a more definite and durable form. One Sunday morning we wandered into a church. A couple of days later I started to write. I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that I had a conversion or even a “return” to Christianity. I was just finally able to assent to the faith that had long been latent within me.

You have three vocations: poet, editor of Poetry magazine, and, most recently, spiritual essayist. How did you decide to begin writing spiritual essays?

I’ve always written prose, and I can now see how God’s absence—or, more accurately, my refusal to admit his presence—underlies all of my earlier work (poems as well).

But you’re certainly right to point out a change. My work—prose and poetry—is still full of anguish and even unbelief, but I hope it’s also much more open to simple joy. The theologian Jürgen Moltmann once wrote that all theology, especially a theology of hope, had to be conducted “in earshot of the dying Christ.” Abundance and destitution are both aspects of God—or, more accurately, aspects of our experience of God.

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  • Rose

    God goes to every broken thing He’s made. He too was riven.
    “Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed,
    Be of sin the double cure, Save me from its guilt and power.”
    There’s an underwater statue of Christ of the Abyss:

  • Gene Veith

    Wow, Rose. Thanks for the link to that statue. It’s very beautiful, powerful, and evocative. Christ being in the abyss with us.

  • JonSLC

    “sing his being simply by being
    the thing it is”

    Dr. Veith, this reminded me of Gerard Manley Hopkins and his idea of “self”, as in his poem “When Kingfishers Catch Fire.” Am I way off base here?

  • Gene Veith

    Not at all, JonSLC! Excellent connection. If you were in my literature class, I’d give you an A for that observation. Here is the poem:

    AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
    As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
    Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
    Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
    Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

    Í say móre: the just man justices;
    Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10
    Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
    Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
    Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

  • +10! “Kingfishers” is one of my favourite poems. I tried to give it a creative setting in a recent episode of my podcast – “Roundy Wells” (only four minutes long).

    Every Riven Thing might be the best modern Christian poetry I’ve ever read.

  • JonSLC

    Thanks, Dr. Veith! I’ll add your virtual “A” to my CV! Can I get a continuing ed credit for reading your blog? 🙂
    A friend, who was at the time an English teacher, introduced me to Hopkins (though I’m sure I had encountered him before sometime). I like “Kingfisher” also because of the vocational connection, which I think has been written about before: “Christ plays in ten thousand places.”

  • A very good poem. I like the use of varying the punctuation in the first line while keeping the words the same!

  • Tom Hering

    I tried posting a link twice, days ago, but neither attempt has cleared moderation. So I’ll just suggest a visit to the Moyers & Company website, where you can search for a very good interview with Christian Wiman.