The book I am reading now is “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of Modern Believer” by Christian Wiman, a writer whose prose and poetry I admire. He comes to the Christian faith as something of an outsider (or former insider returning), as someone grasped by a faith in God, a faith he elsewhere describes as both tenuous and tenacious. Reading him, one is struck by the clarity with which he pursues the questions raised in his life by an experience of God’s presence during a time of great personal suffering and danger, an experience which revealed his latent faith in God, faith he was unaware of until it appeared to him in a flash of recognition. Here is an extended passage from his book:
Christianity itself is this—temporal, relative—to some extent. To every age Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of man. This is why he could be a paragon of rationality for eighteenth-century England, a heroic figure of the imagination for the Romantics, and exemplar of existential courage for writers like Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann. One truth, then, is that Christ is always being remade in the image of man, which means that his reality is always being deformed to fit human needs, or what humans perceive as their needs. A deeper truth, though, one that scripture suggests when it speaks of the eternal Word being made specific flesh, is that there is no permutation of humanity in which Christ is not present. If every Bible is lost, if every church crumbles to dust, if the last believer in the last prayer opens her eyes and lets it all finally go, Christ will appear on this earth as calmly and casually as he appeared to the disciples walking to Emmaus after his death, who did not recognize this man to whom they had pledged their very lives; this man whom they had seen beaten, crucified, abandoned by God; this man who, after walking the dusty road with them, after sharing an ordinary meal and discussing the scriptures, had to vanish once more in order to make them see. (Wiman 11)
What strikes me most about this passage is the phrase “there is no permutation of humanity in which Christ is not present.” There is an openness here, an optimism about the mercy of our God who sends Christ to meet us, each of us, in our time-bound and time-ravaged condition, to meet us and to be our companion along the way we are going. And when I meet people in the neighborhood of the church, people whose life experience and expectations are so different than my own, I wonder how Christ will appear to them and whether I will be able recognize Christ joining them on their journey. The challenge, to me, at least, is to be open, to be open to the presence of Christ in whatever way Christ chooses to make himself known, whether that revelation comes to me in a way which feels comfortable and familiar or in a way which jars and unsettles, and to look for Christ present to others in ways which may stretch my understanding and faith.