I mentioned Christian Wiman’s latest book in my last post. It’s a marvelous read animated by one central question—the question of all questions: “What is the central hunger and longing that drives our peculiar species?” As always, Wiman expresses our options in such compelling ways:
One obvious answer is God—the end, in both senses of the word, of all human longing. One devious answer is death—“an urge inherent in all organic life to restore an earlier state of things,” as Freud put it. One fashionable answer is that there is no answer at all: it’s all just nature, genes rotely ramming home their mechanical codes one by one. We want because dissatisfaction equals survival: we are designed to improve and impart our hunger, breeding descendants with ever-keener teeth.
If we are conscious and honest, each of these answers will likely seem right at various times of our lives. If we are conscious and honest, each of them, at another time, will seem wrong.
At this point, Wiman shifts gears a bit and muses about the soul and whether or not such it is even possible to imagine an irreducible human identity that survives death and has continuity to our “selves” and the stories they have contributed to. He quotes Anglican priest and theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne who says that it is perfectly coherent belief “that the faithful God will not allow [our souls] to be lost, but will preserve it in the divine memory.”
That we might be remembered: what an almost impossible thought that is. That there is a consciousness capacious enough, merciful enough, to recall each of us in our entireties just as we recall our own fragile but meaningful moments. That our lives might be the Lord’s insight.
I’ll confess that sometimes Christian Wiman writes sentences so arrestingly beautiful that I’m tempted to quote them even though I’m not entirely sure I know what they mean. That last one, for example. I like the idea that my life might be something like “the Lord’s insight.” And that yours might be, too. I can’t say for sure what Wiman means, but it strikes me as an aspirational phrase of the best sort—like the sort of thing that you can’t not want to be true.
It brings to mind another beautiful passage that I barely understand but somehow still love and long to be true:
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
— 1 Corinthians 13:12