My friend Stephen started a review of Christian Wiman’s memoir My Bright Abyss a year ago, and finished it a few weeks ago. The result is a beautiful melding of the personal and the critical:
On this trip to Kentucky, I’m staying in a small cottage overlooking the pond at the back of Bethany Springs (the Thomas Merton Retreat Center), rather than at the monastery itself. Partly because of something I felt with renewed force when I finished reading Merton’s memoir last year. I am interested in neither a monastic life, nor an ascetic one. I’ll gladly stand with Jovinianus (and against St. Jerome, who identified this as an honest-to-God heresy, back in the year 393) in the declaration that abstinence from food is no better, in the eyes of God, than a thankful receiving of such. And you’ll find me much quicker these days to quote Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” than to agree with St Paul’s Greek-influenced dichotomy between spirit and flesh.
And so, out of that conviction, out of a desire to embrace and enjoy life in all of its sensual pleasures, before arriving at this cottage I stopped for groceries: asparagus and steak and a good cheese for dinner one night, salmon and a baked potato for another, a bottle of red wine to start the evenings and Glenlivet 15-year single malt scotch to end them, freshly roasted coffee beans from a shop back home to wake up with, and varieties of tea to enjoy throughout the day.