Christian Wiman, the celebrated poet, professor of literature at Yale and Christian intellectual, in his book Joy, which is a collection of poetry and writings on the subject of joy, opens the book with an essay on the maxim used by artists the world over: Light writes white. Meaning, if you are a poet or a novelist or a painter, and you sit down to a blank page, if all is light in your life, all is well, then you have nothing to say.
Art, so the thinking goes, is born out of out of inner turmoil and the demons that lurk below the surface. Wiman’s essay is basically a counterargument; that light writes white says less about art and more about the artist.
I read Joy last winter after Christmas. In the Comer house, we observe Jolabokaflod, which is a tradition we picked up on a trip to Iceland. Jolabokaflod is Icelandic for “Yule book flood,” and the tradition is, on Christmas Eve, you gift each other a book and chocolate, and then—if you are a family—you cuddle up in bed together and read. For a literary family like ours, it’s a great tradition.
But reading through Wiman’s collection over the winter, I was struck by how easy it is to miss the goodness of life with God in his world. It’s easier to be sad than glad.
Whatever you think about the origins of human beings (I myself am a bit of a skeptic with evolutionary theory, but …), evolutionary biologists tell us the human brain is hard wired to focus on the negative in our field of vision; we evolved, they would argue, on the plains of Africa, and our ancestors’ survival depended on scanning the horizon for a threat.
Years ago, I read an article by a neuroscientist that said it takes just three seconds ...
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