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They’ve got a way with words

By November 12, 2014 4 Comments

There are two writers that have caught my attention this Fall. One is recapturing my attention and the other I was recently introduced to through a poetry and faith workshop that one of our elders is leading. The first author is Marilynne Robinson whose work has so obviously been influenced by a theologically Reformed lens. In light of her new book Lila I am currently rereading Gilead.  One of my colleagues on The 12, James Bratt, recently wrote about Robinson and you can read more of his thoughts here.

The second writer that has caught my attention (so much so that I have even gone as far to say he has been my bread and wine) is the poet Christian Wiman. Wiman grew up in a evangelical church in Texas after that experience he then left the faith for quite awhile claiming an agnosticism. He returned to practicing his faith in his 30’s and is now attending a small Presbyterian Church in Connecticut where he actively practices his faith. He was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable blood cancer. He teaches at Yale Divinity School where he is the Senior Lecturer in Religion and Literature. He has caught the attention of the New York Times, Krista Tippett in her On Being podcast, as well as Bill Moyers. Marilynne Robinson has said this about his work: “His poetry and scholarship have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world.  This puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader’s surprise and assent are one and the same.”

Personally, I find Wiman to be spiritually refreshing while also offering a depth that I sometimes judge to be missing in American Christianity. He hangs out in the topics of doubt and faith which is wildly attractive to those who desire to experience faith with some sort of integrity. My favorite way of enjoying Wiman’s work is reading along while someone else reads his work out loud. It has helped illuminate his mastery of words. There are two poems that have caught my attention this week. They are both found in Wiman’s newest book Once in the West. The first poem is titled Prayer and the second poem is a character that he has created in a poem called The Preacher Addresses the Seminarian. The second poem is a brilliant piece of work and was called a “near masterpiece” by Dwight Garner of the NY Times. I am going to offer only a selection of it here because I want to encourage you to buy the book. When you do, please let me know your thoughts on the goat. We had a lengthy conversation on what that might mean. 

Cheers to good writers who have a way with words and the human heart!



For all
the pain

passed down
the genes

or latent
in the very grain

of being;
for the lordless

the smear

of spirit
words intuit

and inter;
for all

the nightfall

into me

even now,
my prayer

is that a mind

by anxiety
or despair

might find

a trace
of peace. 



The Preacher Addresses the Seminarian

I tell you it’s a bitch existence some Sundays
and it’s no good pretending you don’t have to pretend,

don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Help
and whip the sorry chariot of yourself

toward whatever Hell your Heaven is on days like these.
I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slake

to be so twitchingly intent on the pretty organist’s pedaling,
so lizardly alert to the curvelessness of her choir robe.

Here it comes, brothers and sisters, the confession of sins,
hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn

we don’t so much sing as haunt: grounded altos, gear-grinding tenors,
three score and ten gently bewildered men lip-synching along.

You’re up, Pastor. Bring on the unthunder. Some trickle-piss tangent
to reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.

I tell you sometimes mercy means nothing
but release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstep

sideways, as it were, setting passion on autopilot (as if it weren’t!)
to gaze out in peace at your peaceless parishioners:

boozeglazes and facelifts, bad mortgages, bored marriages,
making a kind of masonry in faces at once specific and generic,

and here and there that rapt famished look that leaps
from person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.

Jes Kast

The Reverend Jes Kast is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament and serves West End Collegiate Church as their Associate Pastor.


  • Laurie Baron says:

    Yes! Yes! I feel the same about Christian Wiman, Jess. Didn't know a new collection was out–I will buy it, and so should everyone. I'll get back to you on the goat…

  • Jeff Munroe says:

    And for all you in West Michigan, Christian Wiman will be at Western Theological Seminary on March 31, 2015.

  • Jes Kast-Keat says:

    Well done, Western Theological Seminary! That will be a real treat and rich experience for you all.

  • Jes Kast-Keat says:

    Please let me know what you think of the goat after you get the book. The Preacher Addresses the Seminarian is artfully written. Thanks, Laurie!

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