I opened to this line of Christian Wiman's this morning, and just reading the title inspired and frightened me. The title is, of course, a reference to T. S. Eliot's, And I said to my soul, be still. To name his poem, And I said to my soul, be loud, seizes my heart with the force of his bravery– as I could spend the rest of my days just trying to digest Eliot's Four Quartets, or even the one stanza this title refers to. Wiman's poem points us to a revered poet, while recognizing an inward need to give voice to something unconventional. He acts on this inner urge through writing, by being willing to reveal himself. It is I think, through his craft of poetry, that he finds his way.
I imagine the loudness, to be soulful, must come from stillness, from listening. The reference to soul is key, as we find no lack of loud, unsoulful voices in our world. The soul is shy of bright lights, would rather be silent perhaps, or remain unnoticed. It takes courage to be "loud" in a way that is also vulnerable. It means crossing an invisible line and showing something that wishes to remain quiet, hidden. Authenticity and vulnerability are cousins in the business of taking risks. This is the place I am reaching for when looking inward for an image to paint, or how to step further into teaching, or write this to you.
The plea to the soul to be loud can also be a way of calling on something you think you don't have, or had once and have now lost, or to find your way back from illness, depression or loss.
I have been so moved by Christian Wiman's story, his return from "incurable cancer", and his heart opening to faith. (He distinguishes faith from belief, by saying the latter has objects: I believe the world is round, I believe in the healing power of spinach, etc. Faith, on the other hand, has no objects. It is a willingness to move or turn yourself in a certain direction– without having an answer, or knowing where you will end up). All we can do is listen and turn toward That.
Here is the beginning of his poem that speaks to the plea, the prayer, to retrieve something you have lost:Madden me back to an afternoon
I carry in me
not like a wound
but like a will against a woundGive me again enough man
to be the child
This poem alerts me to what I am afraid of– where do I stop myself from being the best I can be, and what will shake me out of my sleep? Why is it so difficult to speak about, to find a structure for the experiences that are most powerful? And if our work– whether it is teaching, painting, calligraphy, cooking, gardening, writing or singing– does not reflect the mystery that we came from, and will return to, (or the struggle to be near it), what is it we are offering?
When you are loud from this place, those who are listening wake up. Give me again enough man to be the child. This speaks to the innocence one can experience at any age, or remembrance of a time when you were at one with everything. How do you share this kind of knowledge? Here is Christian Wiman speaking about what Abraham Maslow called "peak experiences":It can happen when you fall in love or, after the early nullifying horror abates a bit, when the world returns sharper and starker after a dire diagnosis. It can happen when eternity, in the form of your first child, comes crying and bloody and impossibly beloved into time...At such moments it is not only as if we were suddenly perceiving something in reality we had not perceived before, but as if we ourselves were being perceived.
– Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
Wiman speaks with some urgency about how to talk about religious or "peak" experiences in a world where God is an embarrassing word– neither scientific nor intellectual. And in the (former) world of his being the editor of Poetry Magazine, certainly not in vogue. Speaking from interiority is by its very nature distinct, and often goes against, external dictates. I get clues from my own discomfort. And yet, our world feels so thirsty and in need of something clear and unfettered, something both of and beyond ourselves, something true and sustaining– like fresh clear water, or the ancient sound of surf, or the smell of salt air.
It is important to take the time to disconnect from all duty and distraction, to reach in, and remember a moment, no matter how brief, that you were one with everything. It could be an instant of being stopped by the flight of a bird, the note in a song, or even the written word. A moment when you saw and were being seen. Faith is pointing yourself in that direction. Listen, and see what happens. There is an urgency to protecting these moments from being lost in the other kind of pervasive white noise that is both loud and incessant.
I will end with this note about honoring your experience of transcendence:To go on as though something has happened, even though we are not sure what it was, or what we are supposed to do with it, is to enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for. – Frederick Buechner
How do you provide a structure in the daylight for the inward experience of nearness, of being at one, of being? I'd love to hear from you.