The poet Christian Wiman grew up in a Baptist household but progressively strayed from his religion—until he was in his late 30s. At that point, two life-changing events rocked him back to Christianity: He was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer, and he fell in love.
Having known agnosticism and faith alike, Wiman understands how absurdly irrational religious belief can seem—and also how such irrationality is insufficient to refute a higher being. His experience of God as an adult is weaker than it was when he was a child, yet he still senses some irreducible sacredness. He also doesn’t deny that our encounters with the ethereal are products, to some degree, of our minds. In his book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, Wiman wrote that whatever psychological reasons might underlie one’s spirituality, they don’t negate the value of one’s faith “any more than acknowledging the chemical aspects of sexual attraction lessens the mystery of enduring human love.”
In “From a Window,” he describes seeing something magical: A “tree inside a tree … as if the leaves had livelier ghosts.” He realizes that he’s seeing birds on those leaves, creating a sort of optical illusion. And yet for him, that knowledge doesn’t invalidate the transcendence of the moment, the “excess of life” he glimpsed in the tree. His conclusion is an implicit rebuke to judgmental atheists, as well as a statement about the nature of faith—that it can have nothing to do with reason. “That life is not the life of men,” he writes. “And that is where the joy came in.”
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