I’m reading My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman. It might be the most beautiful non-fiction book I’ve read. It’s challenging me in ways I’ve never been challenged before, the way I think about God and the world. I like it. It makes me uncomfortable sometimes, and I’m having to take them into prayer.
I started reading the book shortly after I posted My Darkness, and it seems to fit my mood perfectly. All that being said, I’m going to quote a couple paragraphs from it here. I’ve never done this before, and I don’t know if it’s legal. So, Christian, if you somehow come across this, first of all, thank you for writing, and secondly, all credit goes to you.
You know the value of your doubt by the quality of the disquiet that it produces in you. Is it a furious, centrifugal sort of anxiety that feeds on itself and never seems to move you in any one direction? Is it an ironclad compulsion to refute, to find in even the most transfiguring experiences, your own or others’, some rational or “psychological” explanation? Is it an almost religious commitment to doubt itself, an assuredness that absolute doubt is the highest form of faith? There is something static and self-enthralled about all these attitudes. Honest doubt, what I would call devotional doubt, is marked, it seems to me, by three qualities: humility, which makes one’s attitude impossible to celebrate; insufficiency, which makes it impossible to rest; and mystery, which continues to tug you upward–or at least outward–even in your lowest moments. Such doubt is painful–more painful, in fact, than any of the other forms–but its pain is active rather than passive, purifying rather than stultifying. Far beneath it, no matter how severe its drought, how thoroughly your skepticism seems to have salted the ground of your soul, faith, durable faith, is steadily taking root.
The Gospels vary quite a bit in their accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and the ensuing encounters he had with people, but they are quite consistent about one thing: many of his followers doubted him, sometimes even when he was staring them in the face. This ought to be heartening for those of us who seek belief. If the disciples of Christ could doubt not only firsthand accounts of his resurrection but the very fact of his face in front of them, then clearly, doubt has little to do with distance from events. It is in some way the seed of Christianity itself, planted in the very heart of him (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) who is at once God and our best selves, and it must be torn terribly, wondrously open in order to flower into living faith.
But how does this happen? Here, too, the Gospel stories are helpful, Just as some of Jesus’ first-century followers could not credit the presence of the risen Christ, so our own blindness, habit, and fear form a kind of constant fog that keeps us from seeing, and thereby believing in, the forms that grace takes in our everyday lives. We may think that it would be a great deal easier to believe if the world erupted around us, if some savior came down and offered as evidence the bloody scars in his side, but what the Gospels suggest is that this is not only wishful thinking but willful blindness, for in fact the world is erupting around us, Christ is very often offering us the scars in his side. What we call doubt is often simply dullness of mind and spirit, not the absence of faith at all, but faith latent in the lives we are not quite living, God dormant in the world to which we are not quite giving our best selves.
There it is. These are the reasons I love this book.
Lord, if we are going to have doubt, when we inevitably have doubt, let it be devotional doubt, and not self-sufficient pride.