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Christian Wiman
For all
the pain
passed down
the genes
or latent
in the very grain
of being;
for the lordless
the smear
of spirit
words intuit
and inter;
for all
the nightfall
into me
even now,
my prayer
is that a mind
by anxiety
or despair
might find
a trace
of peace.

We met Christian Wiman a few weeks ago in this series, when we read his poem “From a Window.” In his late 30’s, Wiman almost died from a rare form of cancer, and his experience of sickness and recovery, and his Christian faith, inform his poetry.
Typical of Wiman’s poetry, this poem is condensed and controlled—every word counts. Wiman starts the poem with suffering, the kind of suffering that is part of the human condition, that seems to be born with us and grow with us: “the pain / passed down / the genes / or latent / in the very grain / of being.” And there is spiritual pain, too: “the lordless mornings,” the days without faith. And then there is poetry, which sometimes opens up glimpses of the spirit, but sometimes obscures it—even buries it: “the smear of spirit words intuit and inter.” And then there is the sense of fear of life itself coming to an end: “the nightfall / neverness / inking / into me.” The short lines – many of them a single word—are narrow, constricted, reflecting the mood of the poem.
In the midst of all these fears, Wiman’s poem concludes with a glimmer of hope: “my prayer / is that a mind / blurred / by anxiety / or despair / might find / here / a trace / of peace.” In prayer, even a mind confused by “anxiety / or despair” can find consolation—“a trace / of peace.”
This poem is called “prayer,” but in a sense, I think it’s about poetry as well. Some of the language Wiman uses evokes the act of writing itself: “the smear of spirit,” the “neverness / inking into me.” In prayer, and “here,” in the poem itself, peace can be found.
Wiman acknowledges the darkness that is part of life: the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering that beset us; pain, anxiety, even despair. And yet, through prayer, through poetry, “a trace / of peace” can be found. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Wiman spoke about the intersection of poetry, faith and suffering. We’ll let Wiman have the last word in this reflection.
“Simone Weil comes to mind. She says that you know, the greatness of Christianity is not that it gives you a remedy for suffering, and I must say I've never felt a remedy, a religious remedy from suffering or for suffering. It's not that it gives you a remedy for it, but it gives a use for it. It puts suffering in a place. It gives a pattern. The complete consort dancing together as Eliot put it, it makes suffering part of the meaning of your life. And not this meaningless thing that destroys us. We go through life and suddenly we're destroyed by suffering. You know, all life becomes is just a way to avoid suffering. And I think Christianity gives meaning to it.”
Watch the whole interview here:




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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