I will be spending the coming week with the good folks who organized and are participating in St. Olaf College’s Conference on Worship, Theology, and the Arts. One of the guest faculty is poet Christian Wiman. One of the first poems I’d shared at this site was his “Every Riven Thing,” from his collection of poems of the same name. This week, anticipating with delight a chance to listen to and learn from him in person, I am posting the second portion of “One Time” from the same volume.
I appreciate so much the evocative language Wiman regularly employs in his poetry but even more the turns of phrase that somehow name a reality that is usually so difficult to name. “But the world is more refuge / than evidence,” for instance, uncovers a mysterious, elusive, and sometimes difficult truth about our lives in this world without demystifying it. Rather, Wiman finds a way to offer homage to the deeper truths of our lives by naming their mystery and beauty and in this way making them accessibly to us but only by inviting us not to grasp, let alone define, them but rather yield ourselves to them. “I say God and mean more / than the bright abyss that opens in that word.” Yes. Language is simultaneously absolutely essential, even miraculously wonderful, yet also regularly inadequate. We can confess truth with our words but we cannot contain it, let alone possess it. Which is where poets come in, helping us stretch our words inward and outward, sometimes, if feels, almost to their breaking point that we might move beyond mere words, if only for a moment, into the land of hope and promise.
Grief, hope, prayer, gratitude and awe – all this and more are in these few lines. Savor them that they may help you look at what can often seem like a mundane existence and discover the wonder in each of our broken and blessed moments with each other.
from “One Time”
2. 2047 Grace Street
But the world is more often refuge
than evidence, comfort and covert
for the flinching will, rather than the sharp
particulate instants through which God’s being burns
into ours. I say God and mean more
than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
I say world and mean less
than the abstract oblivion of atoms
out of which every intact thing emerges,
into which every intact thing finally goes.
I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man. It is still dark,
and for an hour I have listened
to the breathing of the woman I love beyond
my ability to love. Praise to the pain
scalding us toward each other, the grief
beyond which, please God, she will live
and thrive. And praise to the light that is not
yet, the dawn in which one bird believes,
crying not as if there had been no night
but as if there were no night in which it had not been.
By Christian Wiman, from Every Riven Thing: Poems