Meditations on This Bright Abyss

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“People who think poetry has no power have a very limited conception of what power means.” – this, and all subsequent quotations, from Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss

I’ve been sitting, every morning this week, and reading this book, by Christian Wiman. I can’t take in more than a few chapters during a sitting, and even then, I’m certain I’m not taking everything in. The book is mostly about faith and Christian faith specifically. I find myself not looking to those parts, or shrugging them off; yet I know deep down that faith is an intrinsic part of my outlook, that it is where I come from and where I write from. I believe in something bigger than myself. I believe in infinite wholeness expressed somehow in every living thing, and utterly inexpressible. Most of all, I believe in the power of connection, wherever that is found. I believe, in all seriousness, that there are times when I write that I am receiving a gift by grace.

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“A poem, if it’s a real one, in some fundamental sense means no more and no less than the moment of its singular music and lightning insight; it is its own code to its own absolute and irreducible clarity.”

What does this mean — if it’s a real one? That strikes me as being unfair and judgemental. But isn’t it true? When you read a real poem, you know it. You just do. And isn’t the paradox of writing the need to get beyond one self while staying true to oneself? There is magic in pinning down a moment of singular music and insight; and there is failure, too, because it is an impossible task.

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“… existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person.”

And yet, to write a story is to participate, actively, in inventing puzzles to be solved. Somehow to be human is to long for puzzles to solve, to crave them. The solution is never as satisfying as the mystery.

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“Behind every urge to interpret is unease, anxiety. … The trouble comes when the effort to name and know an experience replaces the experience itself.”

How to answer this? Isn’t this what I’m involved in daily, as I blog and photograph my life?

I was thinking again about the movie we watched on the artist Andy Goldsworthy, and my impatience with his observations about time — time like tide that inexorably rises and time like a river that won’t quit its rushing, and how we are caught up in it. His work relies on using time combined with elements from the natural world. I wanted to yell at him: who needs icicles and the sun, when you’ve got children to pick up for piano lessons? My every day is a study on the relentlessness of time.

I want a study on peace within the relentlessness. Or harnessing the relentlessness to make something bigger and wilder and rockier and freer than one could have imagined, given the boundaries imposed. Maybe that’s what he’s trying to do too. I couldn’t say. I have enough washing away as it is. I want to make time expand.

Here’s a small thought that arose this morning, as I sat and read: Restlessness is a gift. It’s a gift to luxuriate in our imaginations, in possibilities unachieved, in dreams that lie before us and that we are still fortunate enough to dream. That is the meaning on which our lives balance. It is our fortune.

And this post is out of time.

Must-do's, sometimes-do's, and never-finished's
Blissfully awake

6 Comments

  1. I want you to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things. I read it in December and LOVED it and have since created quite the crush on her. (Haven’t read anything else by her, yet.)

    Alma, the protagonist, ruminates on the concept of time at a few points, and she comes up with a theory that there are four time planes happening at the same time. Human time, moss time, earth time, and spiritual time. It’s really interesting. The whole book is great and I think you’d get a kick out of it.

    Anyway, this post made me think of this. About time and perspective. What plane art lives in. It has to be created by humans in human time, but do we want it to live in human time?

    Reply
    • I really enjoyed reading Eat, Pray, Love, yet somehow that’s stopped me from picking up Gilbert’s fiction, as if she couldn’t do both well. I will have to put this on my reading list (if I can keep up with my reading list, that is!).

      Reply
    • Yes, the never-ending reading list! I think if I stopped adding to it right this minute, I still wouldn’t get to all the books I want to read.

      If you have time (ha!) watch the interview. It’s an hour and I know you’ve enjoyed Patchett. It’s such a great chat and goes so many places. Definitely worth the time.

      Reply
  2. We who have the good fortune of food and shelter.

    Reply
  3. I check out Bright Abyss from the library and now I’m circling round it, thinking I want a much lighter, more entertaining read. oh me.

    Reply
    • I don’t think it should be read like a regular book, but more like a devotional text: a little bit at a time. It’s broken into short passages, which could be read daily. But it isn’t light, that’s for sure!

      Reply

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