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My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,180 Ratings  ·  219 Reviews
Eight years ago, Christian Wiman, a well-known poet and the editor of Poetry magazine, wrote a now-famous essay about having faith in the face of death. My Bright Abyss, composed in the difficult years since and completed in the wake of a bone marrow transplant, is a moving meditation on what a viable contemporary faith—responsive not only to modern thought and science but ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published April 2nd 2013)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 01, 2015 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads
I found this collection of meditations and essays an emotionally and cognitively challenging work - even more so than Wiman's earlier Ambition and Survival. This book is suffused with the author's physical, mental, and spiritual pain in the shadow of his terminal cancer diagnosis, and it is haunted by a search for meaning. Wiman finds meaning in Christian faith (cf. other poet-writers Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris ...), and as a nonbeliever I struggled in the early pages with his asser ...more
David Guy
My wife loved this book, and I expected and wanted to like it, but I didn't. I'm not sure why. I definitely feel for the author, who is suffering from a rare and unpredictable form of cancer. He writes very well; I like his own poetry that he included in the book. But somehow, his struggles with faith all seemed terribly abstract and intellectual to me. He speaks early in the book of not feeling at home in the world, and I'm very familiar with that feeling, but have found the cure for it is simp ...more
Ben McFarland
The book My Bright Abyss is subtitled Meditation of a Modern Believer, but the believer of the subtitle (Christian Wiman) is a poet who deconstructs and inverts the very word belief. It's not for nothing that someone else called Wiman the "atheist Christian." He's fond of apophatic language (describing God, not by what God is like, but by what God is not like), paradox, and the search for meaning in silence despite a loud, modern world set against anything quiet. But this is not Chesteron's some ...more
This was one of those perfect books that met me at the precisely perfect moment in time. After hearing Wiman speak at our church, I bought this book and began reading immediately. There's relief that floods over you when you find a book like this, when you are reminded that in this deepest part of yourself, you are not alone in your feelings. You are not the only one struggling to reconcile faith and everyday life. You are not the only one who doubts God, who doubts if any of this even matters a ...more
Jul 17, 2013 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommended for all "atheist Christians," like myself.

This is the most poetic, reasoned, thought-provoking, deeply-personal-yet-instructive "journey" toward God that I have read.

Just a few of the many, many paragraphs that left my brain swirling:

"There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion th
Jeremy Garber
Wiman, a poet and self-confessed Christian (although certainly not of the orthodox type), provides his journal-like musings on theology, poetry, the use of language, and the connections in between. Wiman opens his book with the observation, ““There is an enormous contingent of thoughtful people in this country who, though they are frustrated with the language and forms of contemporary religion, nevertheless feel that burn of being that drives us out of ourselves, that insistent, persistent gravi ...more
Apr 29, 2013 Dougw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An astonishing, searing book about faith, God, death, meaning--and meaninglessness. I will return to this book; there is much to take in, ruminate upon, argue with. Wiman offers no comfortable truths and indeed, there are moments when language fails--a sign, surely, of an honest grappling with faith. HIghly recommended. Discomfiting and thought-provoking.
Rebecca Foster
Seven years into a cancer journey, Wiman, a poet, gives an intimate picture of faith and doubt as he has lived with them in the shadow of death. Nearly every page has a passage that cuts right to the quick of what it means to be human and in interaction with other people and the divine.
Mar 08, 2015 Emi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Incurable and unbelieving
in any truth but the truth of grieving,

I saw a tree inside a tree
rise kaleidoscopically

as if the leaves had livelier ghosts.
I pressed my face as close

to the pane as I could get
to watch that fitful, fluent spirit

that seemed a single being undefined
or countless beings of one mind

haul its strange cohesion
beyond the limits of my vision

over the house heavenwards.
Of course I knew those leaves were birds.

Of course that old tree stood
exactly as it had and would

(but why should it
Peter Kerry Powers
I wish I could say this book did it for me, but alas it didn't. This is a hard thing to say since it is almost incumbent upon a reader to validate the experiences and expressions of the near dead and dying. The premise of the book is compelling; Wiman's diagnosis with an aggressive and rare form of cancer is the occasions for an extended series of meditations on what it means to be a believer and a writer, or a writer and a believer, in the face of death and, as the title suggests, in the face o ...more
May 12, 2013 Seth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Discovering allusions yields no small pleasure.

Begin here:

"Christ is contingency, I tell her as we cross the railroad tracks and walk down the dusty main street of this little town that is not the town where I was raised, but both reassuringly and disconcertingly reminiscent of it: the ramshackle resiliency of the buildings around the square; Spanish rivering right next to rocklike English, the two fusing for a moment into a single dialect then splitting again; cowboys with creek-bed faces stepp
Ali M.
Oct 30, 2013 Ali M. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soul-food
Would it be strange to describe a spiritual memoir as "chilling"? Because... that's what this is. It made my skin crawl as often as it made me sit back and drink in Wiman's amazing clarity of thought. There is no sugar-coating here, no hiding behind pretty metaphors in order to safely approach tough questions. Christian Wiman has a rare form of terminal cancer. This book was written over the course of several years, showing first-hand the impact his illness has had on his mind and beliefs along ...more
Aaron Guest
Jun 24, 2015 Aaron Guest rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, 2014, 2015
Third time I've read this in two years. No book has found me in so many different places, and reached a hand down like this book has. I will read it again soon I imagine because it is marvelous. It will probably offer me something new then, some new limb to grab onto in this journey while waves slip below.
Steven Rodriguez
Nov 30, 2014 Steven Rodriguez marked it as never-finished  ·  review of another edition
His prose is beautiful (it often leaps into the poetic) but his theology is a pile of straw. I knew when he softly intoned (with an alarming air of self-importance) that "Christ is contingency," we were worshiping two different Christs.

Another sad addition to the history of heterodox poets. If only there was an objective deity behind all the swooning lines. For all his precision as a writer (and he is razor-sharp), it's a shame he lacks a similar ability in theological care and craft.

Not to be t
Jun 13, 2013 Banner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religious
There is much eloquence to this book, written by a poet in proses, searching the limits of language to talk about his faith. Raised by a conservative Christian family (maybe in the Pentecostal tradition). Upon going to college, he embraced agnosticism and a love for poetry. Then he has cancer and is faced with his own mortality to such a degree that all pretense is lost. Faith once again begins to grow.

He came to believe that facing death is not the time to hold stubbornly to unexamined beliefs.
Wholly wow, Wiman! Write on! Penultimately, Christian's My Bright Abyss weds art with belief, doubt with faith, literature with theology, and, of course, poetry with prose. With unflinching grace and honesty, this book plumbs and probes the human depths of language and its limit/ations in that mysterious searchlight for meaning and significance in the face of death, meaninglessness, pain as well as pleasure, and Wiman's personal suffering of terminal cancer. This "burn of being" alights as a pho ...more
Mar 02, 2016 Jennifer rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up-on, churchy
We were supposed to read this as part of a lenten book-club at church. I couldn't get through it. So much navel-gazing and self-examination. Pointless anecdotes combined with even more pointless navel-gazing. If you took worthless pre-adolescent poetry and turned it into prose, it would be this book. The only discernible lesson was in the few times the author seemed to hint that maybe he should stop examining his own belly-button and try to actually experience something. Good call, that. Worse t ...more
May 08, 2015 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish I had the opportunity to read this with a group of others with whom to discuss it. There is so much in this book to consider, turning it over and over again in your mind. In a time when the church's approach to doctrine and what it means to have faith feels so stale to so many, this is an important read for those in and out (or on the fringes) of the Christian church.
Each essay is more a collectionbof micro essay, each rich with thought. Wiman gives no easy answers, if any at all, but ask
Leslie Klingensmith
This book spoke to me in many ways. I first downloaded it and read it on my Kindle, but then ordered a hard copy. I can tell it is a book I will return to again and again, that I will highlight favorite passages and over time they will weave their way into my consciousness and become a means by which I express some of the more difficult to articulate aspects of my own faith. I don't agree with everything Christian Wiman says, but I almost always like the process by which he arrives at what he ha ...more
Mar 04, 2014 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, faith
Recently my wife asked me if I knew of a memoir by a Christian woman which was solid and not just a reaction against fundamentalism. I showed her my stack from the library where this memoir by the near 'Christian woman' homonym, Christian Wiman. She settled on reading Carlyn Weber's Holy is the Day. It is just as well, this would not be quite what she was looking for.

Wiman is a poet whose return to faith corresponds to his diagnoses with terminal cancer seven years ago. These are his beautiful
Tonia Peckover
Jun 04, 2015 Tonia Peckover rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wiman is a relentless questioner. So much so that his book becomes uncomfortable at times. Every time he seems to come to terms with his faith and you relax a little, he comes right back around with another but, another question. It was a good uncomfortable though, and a familiar one. In the end, he seems to be as stuck as the rest of us, flipping between doubt and faith, two sides of the same coin.
Dec 25, 2015 Aeisele rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, memoir
This was an incredible - I don't know, memoir? Theology? "Meditations?" The book is fragments, and as it moves you get a sense that it was written over a long period of time, through a horrible illness (cancer) that is never fully named, nor are the treatments. And running through is Wiman's reflections on his faith and his non-faith, how they are interwoven over time and through intense experience. He engages this faith in a number of ways, but my sense of the overall picture is that he - as an ...more
You can read my review of this deep and brilliant book here ----
Alex Stroshine
Christian Wiman is an exquisite wordsmith and his beautiful prose is on full display in his memoir "My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer." Wiman, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, offers his reflections on God, life, death, doubt, belief, art, and his own return to faith. Wiman spends a lot of time analysing poetry and drawing out its meaning and truth. Along with poets like George Herbert, Richard Wilbur and Seamus Heaney, Wiman also engages with the pantheon of luminari ...more
Apr 09, 2016 Lisa-Michele rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A collection of musings on faith by a writer who is facing death. Yes, that might seem a little grim. But it was mostly uplifting.

“My God my bright abyss
Into which all my longing will not go
Once more I come to the edge of all I know
And believing nothing believe in this-”

I like the poetry, the prose and the topic. Wiman is a gifted writer. He expresses his faith and his doubts with equal imagery. I like the way he thinks about religion and the way he feels religion. “The trouble comes when the ef
Nov 01, 2015 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the midst of an excruciating, seven-year journey with cancer, Christian Wiman (poet and senior lecturer in religion and literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music) forages out of the dung of his experience some incandescent diamonds of shimmering, unflinching, hard-fought wisdom. Sections of the book use a language and imagery so sophisticated that i struggled to connect to his attempts to articulate his experience (i'm NOT Yale material, that's for sure). But then, like a burst of ligh ...more
Aug 06, 2015 Andrea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Andrea by: Will Owen
This book is a gorgeous meditation on poetry, faith, and suffering. Written by Christian Wiman, a man who grew up Christian, drifted away from faith, and then came back, it is a gorgeous look at all the way complex ways we interact with our faith. This is not grade school Christianity. The book is also driven by the urgency of Wiman's diagnosis with a rare cancer that is unpredictable, that could kill him in a few months, or that he could fight off for years. I underlined lines on nearly every p ...more
May 04, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wiman, the former editor of Poetry magazine and a poet himself, has written a memoir that presents a series of thoughts and reflections on faith, life, and death. For Wiman, the life of faith is a life of contingency, struggle, and change. There is no end point to faith in this life, no place where the believer can settle down and grow comfortable--at least not if we are honest with ourselves and even half-interested in pursuing the legitimate questions that plague anyone who claims faith in som ...more
Jul 26, 2015 Edward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This collection of religious reflections (the author calls them a “mosaic”) is based on the author’s own experiences as a Christian believer. What makes the collection unique is that Wiman is a poet and approaches religion with a poetic sensibility. That’s to say, poetry is an imaginative endeavor that struggles with how best to employ language. It’s capable of changes in its approach, and above all, tries to fuse emotion with intellectual content.

In the same way, he emphasizes that religion is
Jun 27, 2013 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are rare occasions when a book's arrival seems to match, almost serendipitously, circumstances and needs in one's own life, and Christian Wiman's book, for me, constitutes one such moment. I've always admired Wiman's writing on poetry, as well as, although I've read little of it, his own poetry. My Bright Abyss finds him mediating -- with a poet's sensibility, of course -- the often unbridgeable divide between secular and religious approaches to life; Wiman recognizes himself as someone wi ...more
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Christian Wiman is an American poet and editor born in 1966 and raised in West Texas. He graduated from Washington and Lee University and has taught at Northwestern University, Stanford University, Lynchburg College in Virginia, and the Prague School of Economics. In 2003 he became editor of the oldest American magazine of verse, Poetry.
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“Art is so often better at theology than theology is.” 24 likes
“What you must realize, what you must even come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all. The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will be so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all. The calling that seemed so clear will be lost in echoes of questionings and indecision; the church that seemed to save you will fester with egos, complacencies, banalities; the deepest love of your life will work itself like a thorn in your heart until all you can think of is plucking it out. Wisdom is accepting the truth of this. Courage is persisting with life in spite of it. And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it.” 22 likes
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