Art:Faith:Life:Death

wiman

Last night I finished Christian Wiman’s latest book, He Held Radical Light: the Art of Faith, the Faith of Art. It’s a thoughtful, deep, intellectually stimulating book that, in some ways, reminded me of the works I used to read in a writing theory and ethics course, the kind where you don’t understand every single thing but you get the thesis of the piece, and that’s usually enough.

The book is about what do we want when we can’t stop wanting? It’s a mix of theology around art, Wiman’s memories of conversations he’s had with profound writers, and plenty of poetry to back it all up. I loved it.

Wiman’s work always seems to have such a depth and urgency to it, which is due in large part to his living with incurable blood cancer. I happened to be reading his story about meeting Mary Oliver just as I was learning of her death (Mary passed away on my birthday, just 11 days ago). It was exceptionally striking to read this poem of hers in the Wiman’s book just after she passed from life into life:

White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field by Mary Oliver

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—five feet apart—
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow—
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us—
as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.