Sunday, May 26, 2013

Christian Wiman on Faith and Practice

This morning, I heard another great episode of On Being.  Krista Tippett interviewed Christian Wiman.  He grew up in a conservative faith tradition.  The interview begins with an exchange in which the two remember the church of their childhood, where they attended multiple times a week, memorized Bible verses, how they grew up surrounded by people who, as Wiman says, "knew the hymns and had the singing. And there was no possibility of puncture to that world. You know, I never met anybody who didn't believe until I went off to college. Never met a soul, you know. And I value the coherence of it and I value the intensity of it and the momentum that it's given my life. But it's also created all kinds of difficulties, as I'm sure you know."

Wiman moved away from that tradition, but felt the tug of Christianity.  And then he developed a rare blood cancer.  The show is a fascinating discussion of theology, practice, and poetry.

Go here to read a transcript, listen to the show, and enjoy additional resources.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

--"I think it's a perilous difficult situation for everyone to be left on their trying to choose their spiritual life."

--"You know, I think we have these experiences and they are people reacting against the word spiritual these days. But I don't know what other word to use at this point. They are spiritual experiences and then religion comes after that.

Religion is everything that we do with these moments of intense spirituality in our lives, whether it's whatever practice we have, whether it's going to church, whether it's how we integrate sacred text into our lives. Being religious or taking on some sort of religious elements in your life, you're not necessarily saying I agree with everything that this religion says. What you are saying is that I've had these incredible experiences in my life of suffering or joy or both and they have demanded some action of me and demanded some continuity of me. And the only way that I know to do this is to try to find some form in it and try to share it with other people."

--"And that has helped me to at least understand those terms somewhat and to explain to myself why I do need some sort of structures in my life. I do need to go to church. I need specifically religious elements in my life. I find that if I just turn all of my spiritual impulses — if I let them be solitary, as I am comfortable in being, I'm comfortable sitting reading books and trying to pray and meditating. Inevitably, if that energy is not focused outward, it becomes despairing. It turns in on itself and I will look up in a couple of months and I find that I'm in despair. So I think that one of the ways that we know that our spiritual inclinations are valid is that they lead us out of ourselves."

--"I love Bonhoeffer, and I'm struck by something else he said in a letter that he was often more drawn to atheists. He felt more fellow feeling with atheists than he did with his fellow believers. And he was trying to understand that in himself. I find Bonhoeffer an incredible figure not simply because he returned to Germany when he could have had a safe life in the United States.

You know, he returned and he felt like if he didn't share in the destruction of Germany, then he couldn't credibly participate in its restoration. And he also simply felt that he had a call. You know, we wait and wait and wait for the right thing to do in our lives, but he says, no, no, no. You've got to obey, follow that impulse as hazy as it is and then your faith will come. You don't get it first. You don't get it first. So he lost his life in that. He also said at one point, you know, God has called us to be in a world without God."

--"And I think that a lot of mid-century Protestants' theology led by Karl Barth was a reaction against this, that you can't simply trust your gut, trust your impulses, that we've got to have some way of finding God together. For him, it was the Bible, and he was very conservative in certain ways. And I just cannot go there. I cannot follow. I don't think we can just recovery orthodoxy in that way. I really feel that a whole new language is being created and there's too many people who are struggling with this. I mean, traditional religious language is part of it and will be part of it, but a whole new thing is being created, and it's going to involve other religions. It's going to involve other practices. I don't think you can simply resist it and say, you know, I'm going to just have my little corner and keep it safe and secure."

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