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My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  3,509 ratings  ·  397 reviews
Seven 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
Hardcover, 182 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Mar 28, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know, some books take a while to percolate down to your subconscious. This delightfully unassuming book - in itself a literary sleeper, a supernatural depth charge - has, over time, changed my LIFE. This is my personal nomination for My Favourite Non-Fiction Book of 2022.

Christian Wiman was at first at loggerheads with my deepest intuitions.

And I have let intuition guide my life, whereas Wiman relies on discursive thought and meditation to produce his sensitively intelligent life and poe
Jun 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Philip Yancey
Dec 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
When this book came about, about seven years ago, I ranked it as my favorite book of the year. A searing and courageous story of returning to faith by the editor of "Poetry" magazine ...more
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
David Guy
Jun 26, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My Bright Abyss is a collection of essays by poet Christian Wiman. As the subtitle states, the essays are meditations on what it means to be a person of faith in today's world, what faith even is (or is not). Wiman spends a great deal of space on how faith consists often of doubt and struggle.

Wiman's writing is informed by his own diagnosis at a young age of an incurable brain tumor. He speaks as much for the failures of faith in his life as their successes. Despite his cancer, he has married an
Joel Larson
Dec 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
It feels unfair to give a work like this anything like a star rating, but just for the sake of consistency in how I review things, 3.5 stars.

My Bright Abyss is a collection of verse-like reflections, written throughout the many years of Christian Wiman's experience living with terminal cancer. The subject of the book travels freely from topics of God/faith/doubt, creativity and the role of the artist, poetic theory, landmark poets of the past, memoir-style passages describing his own experience
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
Colby Brandt
Feb 22, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Contained herein is a profound reflection on life and death, suffering and joy. It would be easy to say that I wish Wiman were more confessional, more explicit (I do). But there are moments within this work that Wiman seems to disagree with himself, his own being drawn asunder by various theological instincts and impulses.

I hope to revisit this someday: Wiman is a master of language. There are times where he confuses me, but in those, I believe he himself is confused by the throwness of this li
Ben McFarland
Oct 08, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aaron Guest
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2019
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.

January 2019: fourth time now. Running out of highlighter colors. Feels even more profound, speaks even deeper to me, to my writing, to my faith— whatever that is these days. A book filled with
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
AJ Nolan
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to AJ by: Aidan 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
Lauren Jenkins
Mar 06, 2022 rated it it was amazing
“at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world”

A stunning, wandering prayer, one I hope to come back to often
Shawn Enright
Oct 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is made of books. One way to read Wiman is to imagine him in a hospital bed, pulling the books from his bedside onto his lap, using them him as artistic life rafts while he undergoes bone marrow transplants. He’s a (sort of) theologian, a poet, and a secularist fumbling toward God — and you must read him as all those things.

My feelings:
Wiman is a mature writer. This book will likely generate silence in your high school small group, or, maybe more exciting — accusations of heresy. So,
Apr 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable. I picked this up from the library on accident, thinking it was a collection of Wiman's poetry. He speculates on theology now and then—and I think he'd admit as much—but, wow, a beautiful, beautiful book on art, faith, suffering, meaning, poetry, love... Now on to more of his poetry. ...more
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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.
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Alex Strohschein
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
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing

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
Kee Wei
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My Bright Abyss is a mesmerizing piece of work. In this book of poetry and prose, Wiman gives us a glimpse of the storm brewing in his mind as he wrestles with hard questions of faith in the midst of a contemporary religious landscape that is, for the most part, plagued with easy binaries and false dichotomies. By gifting us with a precise and pristine language of paradox in a culture that is often careless and callous with words, Wiman’s work allows people, whether faith-full or faith-less, to ...more
tonia peckover
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Koh Grace
Apr 01, 2022 rated it really liked it
recommended for people who were brought up Christian but then had an existential crisis in the name of “rationality”…aka me…slightly paradoxical at times but hits the nail on the head at others (many relatable experiences) - such as: feeling uncomfortable praying / evangelising / admitting that you are Christian or believe in God at all, feeling guilty being skeptical about God, and having difficulty deepening faith into something more than a “psychological comfort” during hard times (ie. prayin ...more
Akash Ahuja
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was such a journey, and I almost wanted to start back at page 1 and do it all over again. Christian Wiman is a gift, and I will definitely be reading more of him in the future. Following my roommate’s direction, I read this book one or two pages at a time, which is why it took me about 4 months to do it all.

I *highly* recommend this book to people who are asking serious questions about their faith in Christ or are becoming serious about naming their doubts. Wiman gives a lot to chew o
Madison Hogg
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I didn’t agree with all of it, but it was all incredibly beautiful. Much of Wiman’s writing struck chords in me that I didn’t know could be stricken.
One I’ll be returning to.
Peter Kerry Powers
Jun 29, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Steven Rodriguez
Nov 10, 2014 marked it as never-finished
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
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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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“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.” 45 likes
“Art is so often better at theology than theology is.” 39 likes
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