On a whim, I bought a domain for this blog because the ads are so awful. I despise chum boxes in all instances and thoroughly dislike the fact that anyone who comes here (however tiny the number may be) is unwillingly subjected to such garbage.
Upon doing so, however, I was revisited by the uncomfortable feeling I get when I find posts I wrote here seven or eight years ago. Strong waves of nausea and embarrassment wash over me when I uncover them. I sound very childish, and I feel very different from who I was then. (I have also shifted the way that I think about writing here; now I am far less personal and open.)
I am reminded of the ludicrous notion, which we often cherish when we are young, that we are fixed entity. I was BORN this way, we like to think. I have always been an INDIVIDUAL. This is deeply false. We change so much, by the year, by the week, almost. We are not who we once were. And that is OK.
Sure, there are some constants in my personality (I have loved words since I was tiny, I have always been bossy, etc.), but I have changed a great deal. And I expect I will continue to. This prospect, of lifelong personal change, is pleasing to me.
. . .
“I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.”
— Anne Carson, Plainwater
Anne Carson, patron saint of my aspirational mental state.
My Bright Abyss, the latest book from poet Christian Wiman, came to me at the right moment; it was one of those inspired books that reaches you in this unexpected, perfect place.
Lately, I have been feeling lonely in my faith. The old structures of belief that I once clung to have crumbled, noiselessly and painlessly, but I still miss them. I want to return to the simpler days of my childhood and youth, the time of legalistic, black-and-white belief; it was easier back there. I was comfortable pretending I had all of the answers.
I used to be wrapped up in a lot of theological minutiae. But I am not concerned about these things anymore:
Heaven (and who is going there)
Factual inaccuracies in the Bible
Predestination The End Times
And this shift in belief, Wiman writes, is natural:
In fact, there is no way to “return to the faith of your childhood,” not really, unless you’ve just woken up from a decades-long and absolutely literal coma. Faith is not some half-remembered country into which you come like a long-exiled king, dispensing the old wisdom, casting out the radical, insurrectionist aspects of yourself by which you’d been betrayed. No. Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life–which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived–or have denied the reality of your life.
I feel very unburdened by this. Acknowledging that I don’t worry about these subjects anymore has been so freeing to me. I don’t have to have a stance on heaven or predestination; I don’t have to determine (with outrageous arrogance, I might add) whether someone is “saved” or not. My lack of concern over these issues does not affect my relationship with people or with Jesus. Rather, I feel so much happier about being a Christian than I did six or seven years ago. Many of you may disagree with this laissez faire attitude toward certain elements of doctrine; that’s OK. I’m just finally willing to admit that I don’t know everything and that I don’t need to know everything.
As Wiman writes:
The minute any human or human institution arrogates to itself a singular knowledge of God, there comes into that knowledge a kind of strychnine pride, and it is as if the most animated and vital creature were instantaneously transformed into a corpse. Any belief that does not recognize and adapt to its own erosions rots from within. Only when doctrine itself is understood to be provisional does doctrine begin to take on a more than provisional significance. Truth inheres not in doctrine itself, but in the spirit with which it is engaged, for the spirit of God is always seeking and creating new forms.
So, God has not changed; I have changed, and with that, my views on the essentials truths of my faith have changed. Christian Wiman reminded me that this is OK, and that I can find peace here, in this new and unfamiliar landscape of personal belief.
The book draws its title from a few lines of poetry by Wiman, which have struck me as the precise rendering of all that I have been feeling and wrestling with over the past year.
(I don’t have a good photo to illustrate this thought, so here’s a photo of Kathryn in her perfect wedding dress. Isn’t it IDEAL for her? She looked so lovely.)
This past weekend, we traveled back to our homeland of sorts for my dear friend Kathryn’s wedding. The wedding reception was like a mini-college reunion, getting to see all of these people who composed my essential community for four years. I left the wedding feeling very content and fulfilled.
I was amazed at how much everyone had changed, how different we all are from the noxious freshmen who met at InterVarsity. Jonathan is so fit and handsome and his hair is long enough for a perfect top knot. Matt seemed taller, talked about his job with authority and expectation. Catherine and I had husbands with us. Anthony is in grad school in Georgia. Sheila is going to seminary in Colorado with her husband. Nick got a job at a prestigious law firm in Manhattan. And we were all there, watching our beloved Kathryn get married. Our meek freshman selves would barely recognize us now.
And yet. I was pleased to realize that, in everyone, there remained this essential, unchanged kernel of personality, the thing that attracted us all to each other in the first place. Matt still dances the same way. Jonathan is still the person you go to for a deep conversation–or to get your bowtie properly tied. Catherine is still quietly observant and yet full of a surprising, absurd humor.
We’ve all transformed drastically; we live in different states; some of us barely speak to one another anymore. But we were all there, for a few hours, happy and content, as if nothing had ever really changed.
It is true that I have never been so neglectful of this work of mine. I think I can foresee in my reluctance to trace a sentence, not merely lack of time & a mind tired of writing, but also one of those slight distastes which betokens a change of style. So an animal must feel at the approach of spring when his coat changes. Will it always be the same? Shall I always feel this quicksilver surface in my language; & always be shaking it from shape to shape?
— Virginia Woolf, 15 November 1919, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, vol. I