Bill Moyers interviewed poet Christian Wiman on his PBS show last month, Moyers Reports. Wiman is a 45 year old poet who is battling a terminal blood cancer and shares how this experience has reinvigorated his Christian faith. He openly and intelligently shares re his fear and doubt as he wrestles with his mortality.
Wiman noted that faith is not merely an accoutrement to one’s life, a mere adornment, something you wear like a fashionable suit of clothing. It is nothing you have to be “proud” of, it is just something that is, an essential part of your humanity . He also argued that we need a new language for belief to articulate this urge that is within us. This made me think of something T. S. Eliot said in his Four Quartets:
Last years words belong to last year’s language
And next years words await another voice.
Eliot later noted the reason this linquistic revision was needed:
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness.
I guess Wiman’s story would count as a “death-bed conversion”; or, in this case, a “death bed reinvigoration” But that does not diminish his experience in the least for me. Perhaps faith is for the weak and infirm, those who are fearful of their mortality, who want an escape from the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” If so, count me in. Guilty as charged! Those who know me and my life-story could certainly make that argument. I just don’t know. I know that my faith is not any “virtue.” It just is. I can’t explain it and no longer attempt to. I just gain strength from it in my day to day life. And when I come to the end, I think…or at least hope…it will give me strength then too. And I think Wiman would say something similar.