Light at the End of the Table

The title of this post comes from my coworker. We were working on a project that involved editing hundreds of pages of complex statistical tables (and yes, it’s exactly as tedious as it sounds). My coworker turned to me during a meeting and said, “Don’t worry; there’s light at the end of the table—um, tunnel.”

So that brings me to a book I recently finished reading (which was sent to me by a loyal reader of this blog): My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman. It’s essentially a Christian poet’s meditation on what it’s like to truly suffer (he had bone cancer and had to have a marrow transplant) and how to find God in spite of, or through, that suffering and brush with death.

My Bright Abyss was, as the title suggests, darkly hopeful. One may not truly know the joy of life until one comes close to losing it. There may be light at the end of the tunnel (or table), but we may have no control over how to arrive at that light, and we may have no knowledge that we may even reach it.

I can’t even begin to quote all the passages in the book that stood out to me or spoke to me because there are way too many. So I’ll focus on two that stuck out to me most.

The first:

What you must realize, what you must even come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to be apparent to you once and for all. The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will be so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all.

In fiction, you may read many conversion stories, in which a character’s life was changed in a dazzling, sparkling moment, and they were never the same since and never once fell back into the darkness from which they had escaped. In reality, these instant conversions happen much less often, but we still find ourselves seeking those magical moments. When we do have a mystical moment, we tend to let life drown it, and we cease to keep that magic alive. Every day, we need to make many small conversions to return ourselves to the person we were in that one intense moment. The effort it takes to make these tiny “re-conversions” can sometimes lead us to feel discouraged because we are not fictional. We wonder if the conversion even happened. I personally wonder if God was trying to trick me or playing a joke, but I remember that I have free will, and I can choose to let the worries prevail, or I can “re-convert” and choose faith.

The second:

Religious despair is often a defense against boredom and the daily grind of existence. Lacking intensity in our lives, we say that we are distant from God and then seek to make that distance into an intense experience.

Again, I think this is a product of reading too much fiction, watching too many movies, and believing what we see on social media. Others’ lives seem better than our own. We falsely believe we can reach an ideal. We forget that life is mostly made up of dull, monotonous, everyday inconveniences. God will not always come to you in a flash of brilliance. He can be found in the most ordinary moment, and we tend to miss these ordinary moments because we are searching for that brilliance and getting upset because we are not finding it. So, ironically, we lose the perfection of God in the search for a perfect experience of Him. As Wiman says, we don’t need to do something dramatic and intense to find God. We just need to perform ordinary, thankless tasks with joy and do what little we can when we can.

To make a long post short, I highly recommend reading this book. It’s short (182 pages), but there’s a lot to absorb and consider, so take your time. 🙂