BILL MOYERS: You may have seen the evangelist Franklin Graham on MSNBC a few days ago saying he’s not sure if President Obama is a Christian or a Muslim. Or maybe you saw Republican Rick Santorum calling Obama’s agenda some phony theology, not a theology based on the "Bible." Here we go again.

When religion is used as a bludgeon. When political campaigns duke it out over religious beliefs, descending to strident partisan shouts of holier than thou, it’s hard to remember that true faith and reason still can be part of what it means to be human. Often, it is the words and ideas of our poets that remind us. One of them, William Carlos Williams wrote:

“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”

Today, a kindred spirit finds in poetry a way to face death with a graceful equanimity built on faith. A native of West Texas, Christian Wiman has published three critically acclaimed volumes of poetry including this most recent, Every Riven Thing. And a collection of personal and critical essays," Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet." He’s the editor of Poetry magazine, the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English speaking world. This year, Poetry magazine marks its 100th anniversary.

Of late, Wiman’s poetry has been informed by several transformative experiences, including the diagnosis of a rare and incurable blood cancer, six years ago on his 39th birthday.

Christian Wiman, welcome.

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Thanks so much for having me, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: One critic, who praises your new book of poetry, Every Riven Thing, says we are a God-hungry nation. "Politicians," he says, "know it. And it just might be time for poets to know it." But don't poets know it? I mean, some of our most powerful inner emotions rise from poetry?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Oh, yeah, and I think, I think poets do know it. I think poetry has always done that. I think it’s a grave mistake for poets to give up on belief altogether, to give up on faith altogether. I don't know many who do.

BILL MOYERS: Why have you been writing so much about religion?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: It's interesting. You know, I went for a long time without being able to write, and I’d devoted my life to poetry and I felt that was my call. And it went away for a long time, for a number of years, I was sort of in the desert and in despair. And I had three things that happened to me in quick succession. And one was that I fell in love with the woman who's now my wife and that sort of caused the world that – it had seemed to go dead for me -- it caused it all to come alive. And shortly after that I started writing again. And about the same time that that happened, I got a terrible diagnosis of an incurable cancer, which I've been living for a number of years, but has been at times really rough. My wife and I when we fell in love, we found ourselves saying prayers occasionally. And both of us were from religious backgrounds, but had fallen away, me much further than she. Once the diagnosis hit we needed some more formal way of living that faith. And of feeling it. And we found ourselves going to a church around the corner. It just happened to be at the end of our block.

BILL MOYERS: In Chicago?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: In Chicago, small church, nondescript, and they happened to have this wonderful preacher. And he and I became friends. We would just talk. You know, he's much more orthodox than I am. He’s a person of much clearer faith than I am. I feel like I'm very confused and in my faith. But we just talked. And we argued and I would say those discussion lightened things for me so utterly. And made me feel close to God in a way that nothing else has.

BILL MOYERS: After your diagnosis, you went back to West Texas where you'd grown up, right? Is West Texas still the country of your heart?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Absolutely. It's the place that I return to in my imagination. And I find that nothing will take fire, except that landscape. Well, in places, it's just completely flat, so that you see all the way to the horizon. It's like the sky becomes this huge eye that's over you, just 'cause it takes on a curve from horizon to horizon. In other places, it's ranch land, and so it's cattle country. And so there are scrubs, scrub cedar and mesquite trees. And so it's incredibly rugged. The wind blows. We used to have these tremendous sand storms, where everything would just go dark.

BILL MOYERS: Well, the people you grew up within West Texas are in these poems in a very powerful way. You have described life for them "was a battering ram the Lord used to shatter men's hearts."

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: My mother's father killed my mother's mother, in front of her, when she was 14 years old, in front of her two brothers, as well. And then killed himself, when they all ran out of the room. And so I grew up with that as well, images of this extreme violence. I think an act like that has certainly, you know, ramified through the years, in her own life. And it continues to echo in other lives for a long time, when something like that happens in a family, it just, it has a long tail.

But interestingly, my closest relationship I hadn't thought of this 'til right now, but my closest relationship was with my grandmother. She represented a kind of consciousness to me that is not found in, has not gotten from books. It's not intellectual. She was simply in her world so utterly and knew her world so utterly, every flower, every kind of grass that was out there in the yard, every kind of insect, every bird, I mean, utterly, she knew it. And she seemed to me to have a kind of existence that was in some ways exemplary.

In fact, let me read a new poem. This was written, this was the last poem I wrote. And I wrote it in the hospital, before the chemo, I wrote it in one day. And then the chemo the next day obliterated me. And so I had this one window when this poem was given to me. And I wrote this. And this returns to Texas an image from my childhood. It doesn't have a title. It's untitled.
"Love’s last

"is earth
and grief is all

and the long fall

back to earliest

that exist

but in one’s brain.

"From the hard-
packed pile

"of old-mown

"from boredom,
from pain,

"a boy’s
random slash

a dark ardor

"of angry bees
that link

"the trees and block
his way home.

"I like to hold him
holding me,

mastering fear,

"so young,
standing unstung

"under what survives
of sky.

"I learned too late
how to live.

"Child, teach me
how to die."

BILL MOYERS: Who are you addressing there?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: The child that I was. The child that I was. I think, well that first line says it all. "Love's last / urgency / is earth." I think there's a notion that when you're sick, when you're in danger of dying, that you want to get beyond. You know, you would think you want experience that takes you beyond the earth. You want some sense of an afterlife or, you know, something some sense of a beyond.

But my experience has been just the opposite that when you feel threatened, what, in fact, you want is the earth. You want, you want concreteness. And that's what, that's what rescues you. And I think we talk too much about how poetry can get to the edge of the sayable, can take us back and take us beyond what can be said. I love poetry, because it gives me the concrete. It gives me concrete experience and it helps me to understand my experience.

BILL MOYERS: So you fell in love, the diagnosis, and what was the third thing?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: I started writing again. I started writing again.

BILL MOYERS: After the diagnosis, after falling in love?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Yes. And I started writing poems again. But somewhere along in there, it became clear to me, I think you know, you don't come to faith. It can't just be a sort of, it's not just an accoutrement to your life. It's not an appendage to your life. If you open yourself up to faith there's every possibility that it will change your life radically.

And one of the changes that it asked of me was that I change what I was writing. And so I wrote a whole prose book, which is coming out in a year. That book is wrestling with what it means to be a believer at this time, in this culture.

BILL MOYERS: There was a marvelous essay in The New York Times by Eric Weiner, whose most recent book is Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine.

He says Americans are undecided about God. He says, "We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone … who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious … [T]his new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive ... [It would] celebrate doubt, encourage experimentation, and allow one to utter the word God without embarrassment." (Sic) And I must say, I thought he was describing you.

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: I do think he's really onto something in suggesting that we need a new language for belief. That people find the old language inadequate. And that in some way we need to find new language that articulates this urge that's in us. It's in all of us, too. And I think poets are actually at the forefront of this. That they are finding it. That they are finding ways of articulating what we all feel.

BILL MOYERS: The critic, Clive James, an Australian living in London now. He was on one of my earlier broadcasts. And we talked about the subject you and I are discussing, God. Let me play for you something he said.

BILL MOYERS: What kind of God would you have reinvent Western civilization?

CLIVE JAMES: Well, I wouldn't. Because God didn't invent it in the first place. And this doesn't make me an atheist. I don't want to be defined as an atheist anymore as I want to be defined as someone who drinks water.

To me, to me the fact there is no heavenly power that intervenes has been obvious since I was a kid. If there had been it would have brought my father home. If there had been a heavenly power that could intervene that power would have saved the children from the death camps. One and a half million children were being exterminated for no reason at all when I was their age. I never got over it. I still haven't got over it.

Of course, there's no heavenly force that intervenes. But on the other hand, there is a religious sense. I think that all the arts and everything to do with them are heavenly order. I experience them as a heavenly order.

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Clive is projecting a human God. And so he's angry at the God for allowing these things to happen. But that is a projection. That is a humanized notion of what God is. And I think we have to get beyond that. I do think that Clive is, I mean, I'm sympathetic to what he says. I think he is objecting to the notion, the traditional notions of God, which I think we have to do. And he does recognize the sacred nature of art or the sacred nature of people's experience.

BILL MOYERS: Why does that appeal to you?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: One of the ways in which I feel close to God is writing poetry, even when it has nothing to do with God. There is something in the nature of artistic creation, I think Clive was putting his finger on it. Wherein you become, well, it's an ancient notion. You become a vessel for the Gods, they thought. And I think something speaks through us. I mean, you know, contemporary psychologists might say it's you know, you’re just neurological. It's you know, that's--

BILL MOYERS: The God spot that--


BILL MOYERS: God spot, which neurologists are calling this experience of the filter between our brain and the world just sort of disappearing. And you're at quote "one with the universe.”

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Well, I think that's why creation is at once this tremendous elation and also a grief afterwards.


CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Yeah, I think you are filled and then you're not. And a poet is someone who has to exist between those moments. And between those moments, you don't feel like a poet, you know? You don't, it's been two months since I've written a poem and I don't feel at all like a poet. It goes away, you know? You're just a person going about your life like anyone else. And the gift seems not yours. It seems on loan. Whereas with prose, you can do that any time. You can crank that out.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to journalism. Yeah, well, you describe moments in life when and I'm quoting you directly here, "It is not only as if we were suddenly perceiving something in reality we had not perceived before, but as if we ourselves, as if we ourselves were being perceived." What were some of those moments for you?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Certainly falling in love. I, it was as if the world just looked back at me. And it was a mysterious, mystical experience for some time. And there have been other instances. There have been instances of grief, of great grief. Around my diagnosis, because they happened so soon after we fell in love. We had not even been married a year, when I was diagnosed. And there were moments around then when that the suffering made possible that, when it seemed like the world was looking back at me. It was just lit, just radiant.

Simone Weil says that you can't have a supernatural experience of suffering until you've had a supernatural experience of joy. And I don't know if that's true, but it was true to my own experience. And during that time, when I fell in love with my wife, in that time afterward, it was as if reality was just over brimming its boundaries. And I needed to thank somebody. There was so much excess energy, so much excess, so much joy. I needed to I needed to praise it. And so I needed to pray.

BILL MOYERS: Do the words omnipotent, eternal, omniscient say anything to you about God?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: No, I don't think we can even know what those words mean. They're just, all we can think of is, if you think of power, you can only think of human power. And so something that's all powerful, it just means they have all the power that we can imagine. It's meaningless. Those are meaningless words.

This is called Lord of Having.
"Lord of having
hell at hand
Lord of losing
what I have
this heaven now

"may I move
in time
like a cloud
in sky
my torn form
the wind's
one sign

"may my suffering be
as of water
in some reach
of rock
it would take
to ascend
and see

"and may my hands
my eyes
the very nub
of my tongue
be scrubbed
out of this hour
if I should utter
the dirty word

BILL MOYERS: The dirty word?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Yeah, I don't want to think about eternity. It's like the eternal and omniscient. It's one of those words that has no meaning. My imagination just goes dead when I think of the word eternity. And I think we have to think of now. We have to live in time and deal with time. And so I don't want to, I don't think of, I don't think of my life as, I don't think of eternity.

BILL MOYERS: When you stopped writing, and this was before you fell in love, when you stopped writing, was it in any way connected to a crisis of faith?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: I think in retrospect, it certainly was a crisis of faith. I think I mean, a crisis of faith is the only crisis there is. We're always having it. Everyone's always having it. We mistake it for other things. 'It's a crisis of my job. It's a crisis of my marriage. It's a crisis of this.'

I think it's always a crisis of how are we relating to our ultimate concern? If life is messing up, it's messing up, because we are somehow out of whack with our ultimate concerns. There may be things that we've got to take care of, there often are. But that’s, you can't fix your life, if the ground of your being is messed up. If the ground of your being is unsure, then your life will always be unsure.

BILL MOYERS: It sounds to me as if this is what you mean, when you write, "Two or three times every expression of faith is provisional."

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: I think so, because I may speak constantly about faith, but I'll fall away the minute I walk out of here. You know, I think we are condemned to express things provisionally, to live in contingency. And I think that's just, that's just the way it is. That's why I'm so moved by Christ, the notion of Christ, the incarnation, because that is an intrusion of God into reality, into the contingent nature of our lives.

BILL MOYERS: "All reality," you wrote, "is the expression of God." Including sorrow. That is very powerful in your experience, is it not?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: It is, I do believe that there is something in Christianity that makes suffering sacred. It does give a meaning to suffering, even when we can't understand it. I don't claim to have been good about this. I've spent a lot of time in the hospital in the last year, and there have been times when I've been in complete despair. And have felt faith fall away.

Well, again, Simone Weil comes to mind. She says that you know, the greatness of Christianity is not that it gives you a remedy for suffering, and I must say I've never felt a remedy, a religious remedy from suffering or for suffering. It's not that it gives you a remedy for it, but it gives a use for it. It puts suffering in a place. It gives a pattern. The complete consort dancing together as Elliot put it, it makes suffering part of the meaning of your life. And not this meaningless thing that destroys us. We go through life and suddenly we're destroyed by suffering. You know, all life becomes is just a way to avoid suffering. And I think Christianity gives meaning to it.

BILL MOYERS: Perhaps this is what poet, why poetry and religious sentiment are so powerful together. That poetry is the intensity of our experience here.

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: And we live for these moments of intensity, you know? When we think of our memories, it's moments of intensity. Whether they were sorrowful or happy, moments of great loneliness or moments of great communion. We live for these moments in our life. And I do think poetry that is a way of, it's a way of recognizing the moments, first of all, in your life. But also a way of preserving them.

BILL MOYERS: So this intensity visited you when you fell in love. You felt it again, when you had a diagnosis. Tell me about that. What was the disease?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: It's called Waldenström's macroglobulinemia. And there have been complications after that. So I have something, additional things now. But it's a very rare cancer. It is in the bone marrow, primarily. But also it's everywhere in your body. And it is completely unpredictable. Some people die quickly, some people live 30 years with it. And it doesn't even change. It doesn't even do anything in their bodies.

BILL MOYERS: But you were told, if I understand it, that you could die very soon.

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: It looked like it at the beginning. And I've had two-- I've had a bone marrow transplant. So I have been on the verge of dying a couple of times. So it's been very difficult. I think less so being close to death than being in great pain. I think being in great pain, and I'm talking really serious pain, islands you from everybody. It takes you away from everybody.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote this essay in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin for the Winter/Spring of 2012. And you describe this pain and this experience. Would you read that?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Sure. "Six years have passed since I wrote the first words of these notes. I have been in and out of treatment, in and out of the hospital. I have had bones die; joints lock in my face and arms and legs so that I could not eat, could not walk; cancer pack[ed] my marrow to the point that it began to expand excruciatingly inside my bones. I … filled my body with mouse antibodies, small molecules, chemotherapies eating into me like animate acids. I have passed through pain I could never have imagined, pain that seemed to incinerate all my thoughts of God and leave me sitting there in the ashes, alone. I have been islanded even from my wife, though her love was constant, as was mine. I have come back, for now, even hungrier for God, for Christ, for all the difficult bliss of this life I have been given. But there is great weariness too. And fear. And fury."

BILL MOYERS: What sustained you through all that?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Oh, I think my family sustained me through it. And I think that faith does sustain me. You know, my sense of faith is often not counter to the man in that article that you were talking about earlier, or counter to Alfred North Whitehead, actually, whom he quotes. He's saying that religion is what we do in our solitariness. I do not think that's true. I think we have those solitary experiences of the divine, but that's not religion.

Religion is everything after those moments of solitude. One thing that sustained me is not those solitary moments, which I found conducive to despair. What sustained me was the company of other people who believe. And I was able to talk to them and to take comfort from them. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christ is always stronger in our brother's heart than in our own. Now you don't have to be a Christian for that, to understand what that means. You've got to have other people. And you need other people to sustain yourself and to sustain your faith.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote this poem that is particularly -- I think seems particularly pertinent right there in "Every Riven Thing."

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: I wrote this poem, after the diagnosis, after we had gone back to church.
"God goes, belonging to every riven thing he's made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he's made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he's made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself;
under the tree, a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see.

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He's made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he's made."

I suspect that's one that Clive James hates.

BILL MOYERS: He says this is a favorable time for poetry, when everything is against it. What do you think he means that it's, everything is against it, therefore it's a favorable time?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Well, I think what he must mean is that everything seems to be aligned against the kind of inner life that poetry requires, against the kind of consciousness that poetry requires. And the world seems to be going faster and faster, and our attention seems to be more and more fragmented on these various, in various ways. And threatening the inner life. And what I would say is that poetry is a bulwark against these things. That I think people will realize, in the midst of all this, that they need some way of putting up resistance to it. And reading a poem can be an act of resistance, because it can be an act of individual consciousness in this onslaught of information that's coming at us.

BILL MOYERS: So what's the prognosis for you?

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Well, I just had a bone marrow transplant, so I just have to wait and see. There's no, there's no way to know. You just wait and see now.

BILL MOYERS: But you write, "I love the life that I have been granted in this deepening shadow of death."

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: I feel death around me all the time. And I, my wife doesn't like this poem I read, "Love's last / urgency / is earth," because I say, "teach me / how to die." At the time, it seemed like I was going to die. I felt it very present, but I don't think, I think of learning how to die is a long process. And I don't think of this as somehow a swan song. So you know, I expect to be around.

BILL MOYERS: To which many of us would say, amen.

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Oh, thanks, Bill, thanks.

BILL MOYERS: Thanks for being with us.

CHRISTIAN WIMAN: Thanks so much for having me.

Poet Christian Wiman on Love, Faith, and Cancer

Bill Moyers has a moving conversation with acclaimed poet and Poetry Magazine editor Christian Wiman about how finding true love and being diagnosed with a rare and incurable blood cancer reignited his religious passion as well as his creative expression.

“When we think of our memories, they’re moments of intensity. Whether they were sorrowful or happy, moments of great loneliness or moments of great communion — we live for these moments in our life. And I do think poetry is a way of recognizing the moments in your life. But also a way of preserving them,” Wiman tells Moyers. “One of the ways in which I feel close to God is writing poetry.”

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  • Five-f

    The inner life…I had forgotten about that part of me.

  • Norton Kristen

    This was beautiful and moving and touching. Thank you…

  • Julie Schulze

    When can I see this show on KOZK. I hope you will schedule such a thoughtful program in prime time.
     Julie Schulze

  • GradyLeeHoward

    By the fourth episode of Moyers&Company I fully understood the essence of the show. Two subsequent broadcasts have affirmed my assessment. Bill Moyers is preaching the funeral of the United States as a Superpower and an Empire, as an enviable success story, and as a pretender to Democracy. And by doing so he carves his own epitaph at such a scale few mortals have yet achieved. His death will be one of a lover of Creation, of the art enigma and of human striving for admirable ideals in a flawed and limited realm.

    Neal Gabler is an uncommon salesperson of melodrama who aspires to philosophy. To attain such an antagonism to our commercial miasma he has become a consummate trickster and a satirist of our hubris and foibles. His stature and status enable him to ridicule and taunt our electorate and our candidates while sharing many old saws and obvious insights. Does it shock you to learn that John Wayne was no hero? Are you surprised that demi-billionaire Mitt Romney is the protagonist of his own career? Gabler was not needed for Moyers to render the verdict that the majority of Americans live in a mass produced fantasy because their creative spark in the first thing snuffed out, in greedy hierarchical church, in the harried material obsessed home, in the ranking schools and in the inaccessible participation of the political economy.
    It would not be so disappointing that elections are a movie, except that it is a disgusting movie with a cliche outcome. If they weren’t perceived as a movie, over which the audience has no control we’d be fighting our own military like the Syrians. So is illusion a mercy?

    Christian Wiman is the embodiment of America’s impending demise. His bones are exploding with misspent growth and his infrastructure collapses as he is drained of energy by the overwhelming agony.
    His love is analogous to some hopeless and ill-defined affinity for country and his practice of the evasive art of poetry parallels our hopeless quest to think originally, critically and creatively when these traits are despised. Wiman’s view of God is so remote and so accepting it resembles faith in institutions “too big to fail.” He is more desperate for the faith than for the institutions. “Just let this one relationship be real,” he begs his Maker,” and I will go quietly to oblivion, never even expecting to comprehend the deal I have acceded to. So great you are that even your crushing of we little people is a sacrament.”  I saw a fundamentalist church marquee today typifying this attitude perfectly: When you’re down to nothing- God is up to something. (That’s  so sadomasochistic!)
    But you can’t say Bill Moyers is not respectable, even as he exhibits a terminally ill man. We are that man who found out about 6 years ago that the remainder of his life would be mostly diminishment and pain. If you don’t think this is classy contrast it to Whitney Houston’s “Jerry Springer Show Sendoff” that could have only been better if it were forgone.

    The social contract is gone but the herd lives on;
    and we shall meet again around the sick bed, especially if we neglect our innoculations. But there is no vaccination against mortality for the individual. Moyers reminds us that Science can reduce suffering for the majority and that we must not lose that resource in the coming chaos. We might be reminded that most Civil War casualties were from disease and malnutrition, and not from explosions, projectiles and bayonets.  Moyers preaches this God-awful memorial in such a way that it becomes an immunization in itself, a capsule of what was civil about civilization survivors can carry as they begin again. I’m uncertain, and he’s unsure, if he is only preaching his own funeral, not too far down the road, but our dear friend the United States of America is gravely ill and seems to be enrolling in Hospice. Palliatives seem more in order now than stimulus.

  • Evelyn R.

    Amazing. Simply amazing. 

  • Barbara Adkisson

    What a fabulous way to spend a Friday night!  Thoughtful, evocative, fresh…I really love this show.

  • Jon W

    Moving and informative, thank you for this awesome interview Bill.

  • Rosemary_sucec

    Bill Moyers – I was moved to tears by your incisive questions and Wiman’s insightful answers.  The reason I dearly love your presence amongst us is that you not only give us a toxic dose of reality, but you also give us hope, yes, faith.  God bless you!  You make it possible for me, with these interviews, to sustain myself in this realm of existence.

  • Matthew Garrett

    I’m an artist in Peoria, IL and was inspired by the poet you just interviewed, Christian Wiman.  As nearly all artists are struggling more than most in this economy, and as someone who has and is enduring great struggle myself, Mr. Wiman’s honest words about struggle and the enlightenment it can bring rang very true to me and were much needed.  Thanks for having an honest and intimate interview for a change in this world of ours.  It was a good program Bill.

  • Matthewlubic

    If I believed in God the way you do, I’d ask him to forgive you your ignorance.

  • Kylegott

    Wonderful, deep example of struggling with the Christian tradition in meaningful and honest way. 

  • Shumphreys

    Enjoyed the discussion last night.  Winan made two points that gave me food for
    thought. One was how people are uncomfortable talking about, and thus how we
    need a new language or words to talk about “God”. The ancient Hebrews tried to
    keep people from ever mentioning “God’s” names. I wonder if they realized that
    by doing so two things would happen, “God” would become humanized, give him/her
    a name and along with the name come human characteristics, just as we do with
    our pets. Second being on a first name basis breeds familiarity, “God” becomes
    a “good ole boy”, no longer the imposing, frightful, powerful, influence.

                 Taoists just call the “force” the Tao, the way
    of the Universe or of all things, perhaps in an attempt to keep “IT” from being
    humanized and becoming too familiar. Buddha just never talked about the aspect,
    focusing his attention on what was happening here on earth. I use the word “IT”
    to describe the power, the life force within all living things.

    don’t fully agree with the one critic Moyers mentioned who said we are a “God-hungry
    nation”.  I think many folks are
    searching for something, but I honestly don’t think they really know what they
    are searching for (calling that something “God” isn’t quite right).
    Consequently far too many waste their lives searching for “IT” in all the wrong
    places; drugs, alcohol, extreme sports, fame and fortune, becoming “born again”
    only to have no real transformation, some are sure they will find it in The
    Bible if they can only get an accurate translation or the “right”
    interpretation, some if they will perform the “right” ritual or adhere to the
    “right” laws….  I think that what they
    are searching for is “IT” and “IT” is within them, not an entity separate from

  • Shumphreys


    The second point in the discussion
    that caused me to stop and THINK is when Wiman said that there must be a reason
    for suffering. I disagree strongly. There is NO reason for suffering, bad things
    happen, life isn’t a bed of roses (all of the time). “Reason” implies in this
    use of the word a “higher purpose” beyond the action itself. Many folks that
    believe in God, believe that all things must have a purpose, a reason for
    happening. Such thinking strikes me as being “sick”. There is no higher purpose
    for why some children starve to death before their first birthday or get blown
    to bits in our worlds constant battles.

    major disasters hit this country, preachers either struggle to figure out what
    Gods reason was and the wisest ones simply have to face that they don’t know,
    that there is no “reasonable (as in sane) reason”. OR some others accuse the
    victims of somehow being responsible for what happened to them, they must have
    done something terrible (reaping their Karma) to bring about this calamity.  This whole issue of why “bad things happen to
    good people” has bothered humanity since the dawn of time. Those of us who
    understand nature, and human nature, understand that bad things happen that we
    are powerless to control and that how WE choose to respond is totally up to us.
    We can make “lemons out of lemonade”. We can look for someone else to blame and
    sue them for all we can get. We can wear ourselves down and tear our selves
    apart bemoaning our fate, feeling sorry for ourselves, grieving for what’s been
    lost, carrying a grudge, searching for vengence. We can “grin and bear
    it”.  We can accept it, do what we need
    to do, and “carry on”.  

  • Matt Baker

    One of the most inspiring and real interviews I’ve seen in a long while on faith. Articulated as only a poet can do. I was especially moved by Christian Wiman’s honesty as he described his faith walk. Raw, powerful, sincere! 

  • Ejanegillespie71688

    Ijust watched the show with Christian Wiman….I think when we are merrily tripping along in life and things are going well for us that we are happy.  I think as well that when we encounter cancer as Mr. Wiman has that we begin to search for a way to  endure the pain and suffering.  That search can lead us to think about god as a way of enduring the pain and suffering.  The thoughts about god are not thoughts about ourselves so we are in a sense lifted out of some of our misery….when you are  thinking about something other self you do not suffer as much…it is  an antidote for pain.  That is not to trivialize Christian Wiman’s religious experience…but to celebrate his ability to think outside of himself.  I love his poetry!

  • Anonymous

    Firstly, thank you Bill Moyers for coming back !

    And thank you for this heart felt interview and also for your recent interview with Rita Dove. We indeed need to be reminded that poetry can be also experienced as  going to church or any other  place of worship.  A place of communion in a true sense.
    The closeness and  intimacy of this sharing  is deeply felt within the heart. At that moment, the pain expressed is my pain, the joy is my joy, the mystery is also deeply  felt, not just through the words but through the atmosphere that the words create.
    How can we restrict God  when the divine  is in every expression? Suffering has a transformative quality—not the kind of suffering that traps us in self pity, but the one that forces us to dig deeper into ourselves on different levels of the experience  which no other way would or could do.

    There is a  Sufi saying  which is also a calling to God:”For the One who has no name, but will answer to what ever name you call.”
    It is the crying in the heart, the calling in the heart that is real  and belongs to the mystery of being a human being.

  • Mark Midensky

    Thank you for this insight. Belief is a process of knowing what we want to be. Most recently confronted with serious illness, I looked for God and was left with want and a sense of the importance of love as being sacred. 

  • Karl Hoff

    All of your guests were good. Being one that had just about every aspect of my life controled with the exception of religion.  I was neither raised religious or atheist, So I remained not religious.  As I learned how I was created, I realized that the American Indians got it right when they worshiped the Sun, air and earth. Every cell, organ, bone, tooth and every other part of us was created from Sun, air and the earth we stand on or swim in.  The plants we eat, the steel, brick, concrete and every mineral we build with, as well as every form of energy comes from the mother earth. What a miracle that we can carry a pack of tomato seeds in our pocket for a year, which look like pieces of lint, then put them in the ground and they will grow to feed us as well as produce the seeds to grow more. What magic. When these things became my God, I felt one with my God like never before because I realized that when I die I will return to my God to provide the building blocks to keep the creation going forever. What I like the most about my God is that you don’t have to call anyone names or threaten them in any way. You can be kind to all and it seem to end the sometimes deadly conflict between different religions that follow a man’s image. You are even allowed to be kind to those that believe in even the most detailed but unproven religions because we have learned that we are basicly carbon based creatures and no matter what we do to carbon through burning or decaying it just goes into the air in the form of CO2 and goes to make new plants to feed and produce building products and medicine and other products.

  • Rf France

    Thank you so much for the interview with Christian Wiman.  I appreciated his honest, thoughtful words as he lives with God through this day and the difficult days he shared.  God’s peace in the midst of adversity and suffering does not compute to our natural minds.  He moves to shape our spirit and have us drawn to Him in the midst of our experience.  Jesus was not immune to difficulties or suffering, yet he modeled the relationship between himself and his father when he lived here and died here, praying, crying, being filled to keep going in his day to day experiences.  He lives now as our intercessor with his father if we allow him the place to do that in our lives.  No easy prescription for a pain free life, but the remedy in Christ is available if we choose Him.  Thank you for having such an inspirational guest on your show.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Bill and Christian,

  • Mary Jane Delaney

    Thank you, Bill, for another thought provoking brilliant hour, particularly your piece with Christian Wiman. Thank you too for returning to us…your show is an oasis of sanity, humanity , decency and intellect that we so  sorely missed during your abbsence.  Welcome back, bravo and thank you for your powerful voice…a voice  which is treasured amidst the increasingly dehumanizing,  angry, meanspirited, moronic noise that, sadly,  has  become popular public discourse.

  • Anonymous

    Well done, Grady.

    The goofball Gabler fingered the American people for the corruption of imperial spectacle. His blatant obsequiousness and absence of sympathy once again demonstrating where BM is tucking his tail (as when he endured the smuggishness of Herr Haidt.)

    You’ve snagged the symbolic diminishment in Wiman.  You have to admit, however, that he has excavated some admirable offerings from the outhouse of orthodoxy – he just has to wash them off a little more thoroughly.

  • Anonymous

    How monstrous! Your God does not forgive ignorance?

    Great pity upon you, comrade.

  • Kennav1430

    I am sorry for the suffering of Christian Winan, but his concept of Faith is questionable at best. Faith is blind trust or belief without any evidence! Christians have faith in an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient God for which there is absolutely no verifiable evidence! All religions have embraced “Faith” and enshrined it as a noble human achievement. As Richard Dawkins stated, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” It is compellingly obvious that humankind religious worship has been and still is astronomical and astrological, solar mythology, given a veil of mythical historicity as the story of Jesus Christ, Horus or Krishna, a myth, a fable, a legend woven into tradition. As Emerson said, “Religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.” However, we still are experiencing the blessings of the Desert Religions of Death, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which are essentially the same religion with similar intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and hatred of the realization of the violence, human misery, destruction and death caused by these faiths is beyond comprehension.

  • Rperry1936 Elizabeth Perry

    Your comments so resonated with  what I yearn to say after every Moyers conversation.  What a void he fills in our public life.  What a hunger he has exposed
    in my own life for thoughtful, soulful conversation.
    The one I just heard with Christian Wiman will
    reverberate for a long time. 

  • Jon C. Schultz

    Mr. Moyer, I want to thank you for one of the most profound and touching exchanges I have ever seen/heard on television, or in worship for that matter and I am a retired UCC pastor. That exchange being your interview with Christian Wiman. He might not have used the theological language I might use, but he certainly has it right that we need to find a new language for belief. In truth, Wiman and other poets are the ones who have the language, the imagination opening the possibility for receiving God with us in the midst of our humanity, in our pain and suffering (as well as in our pleasure and celebrations). I find this a much more beautiful apprehension of God rather than the notion that God is omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent. Wiman is a graceful contemporary example of the prophet cum poet. I would recommend to you two of Walter Brueggemann’s books, “Finally Comes the Poet” and “Prophetic Imagination.”
    My sincere thanks for your good work. 

  • David F., N.A.

    Concrete Heaven

    I closed my eyes,
    I plead my case,
    But silence filled the air.

    What went wrong?
    Am I not worthy?
    Or, was it this damn prayer?

    I searched for answers.
    I wandered the streets.
    Feeling alone and scared.

    I tried a church,
    A mosque, a temple,
    But no answers would be there.

    My journey has ended.
    I lost my fight.
    My fears I had to bear.

    I closed my eyes.
    I felt the Light.
    Eternity is ours to share.

  • David F., N.A.

     Cancer is such a scary and awful disease. And the multinational corporations won’t admit that their products are causing most of it (yeah, I said most).  I would like to suggest that if you have a laptop, never put it on your lap.  If you have an electric blanket or razor, throw them in the trash.  If you talk on the phone a lot, get a wired land line.  Move any electrical items away from nightstands and chairs.  Also be careful of what you eat, and what you spray around the house to kill insects.  Be aware of leather furniture that has been doused with formaldehyde, and some glues used in particleboard bookcases and desks, or whatever.  Basically, if something generates heat or an EMF, keep it away from your body, and try not to eat or inhale any chemicals, whatsoever.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    When the greedy contingent of humanity upsets the cycles that make up your religion and threaten to end sentient life on Earth, does this not upset your beliefs?

    I respect the parts about being kind and accepting,
    but how do you tolerate the crackpot beliefs that misinform, that are forced on others? The Amerindians were deceived and outgunned, but they resisted with all their might. You might not be aware of their beliefs had they not reasserted them after dislocation and missionary school.

    Right now agribusiness might be poised to criminalize your tomato seeds and close your root cellar.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Just hollering and groaning and complaining are also a distraction from the pain and anxiety of being ill. Sometimes prayer can be a lashing out against an imaginary Creator, not as risky as abusing loved ones and caretakers.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Sounds very “twelve step.” There are “things we can change” which are mischaracterized as “things we must accept.” For instance, people accept the illusion of money value as unalterably real, and they put their financial prospects ahead of their justice responsibilities. If the lemons are rotten you can compost them but lemonade is out of the question. Thanks for the cosmopollyanna.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    So too much God-calories makes your soul fat and lazy?  Information Technology (IT) is a belittling name for the Lifeforce. This society manufactures too many empty synthetic religion calories and fills the airwaves with Fatheads preaching jibberish. 

  • GradyLeeHoward

    It’ll play in Peoria!
    You’re correct that a poetic career might not justify a student loan under the current regime.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Faith moves people, so get moving.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Christian Wiman would have been a good poet without cancer, maybe even without a sympatico wife. And I certainly doubt church attendance had much impact on his creativity. If you read the two folksy blank verse pieces of his Moyers has offered (about the junk man, and about the older relative ) they are impressive autobiography even if they are fiction. Rita Dove would treasure them as lush Americana. The artifacts Christian shares are not from a religious toilet but from his pure heart. Can’t you see that Moyers is presenting Wiman as a suffering Everyman Christ figure anticipating Easter and rebirth? Don Quixote rides again! Now where’s my Helmet of Mambrino?

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I’ll take the 5th, and the 1st.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Less Matthew, more lube.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Simple, candid, insightful…. but also morose and dour. It should attract the young ladies.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Simple, candid, insightful….. but also morose and dour. It should attract the young ladies.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Don’t be caught sitting on your yellow leather couch,
    When cancer comes to call.
    He’ll bring you a Smartphone and an electric shaver,
    Cradle you in his tentacles like an electric blanket.
    And use your landline to call long distance,
    Bringing Corporate Empire in for the kill.

    Free energy was always there,
    In the spinning planetary dynamo.
    But you were too entangled in the wires,
    Boots mired in the coalpit,
    And it danced just beyond the aura
    Of your fingertips.

    “I sent a canoe, and a Coast Guard launch,
    and a helicopter bristling with guns and missles,” laughed God, “But you waited for Armageddon and refused to come in.
    I put clues in your textbooks, warnings in PBS specials, omens on Interstate billboards, rashes in your armpits but you waited for another paycheck, and ignored the Evidence. I was always in your head like a premiums in a cereal box, and I’m in this last buried box with you now. Thanks alot!”

  • Rberman8

    Thank you Christian for being the first person I have heard describe what it is truly like to be a poet, day in, day out.  Usually someone’s descriptions make me cringe, but with yours I was throwing my head back against my chair saying: Yes! 

  • Anonymous

    Nah, Sancho, Cristian is the resurrected poet:

    “I think I mean, a crisis of faith is the only crisis there is.”

    Hangs himself on that creeking windmill.

  • Karl Hoff

    I agree with every thing you say.  I know I am a speck of dust to the power of greed. I try to live from a more powerful lesson my late mother, who was one of the most kind and gental people on the planet, who taught that it takes two to make a fued. Do I get upset? No. What would upsets me is if I were to become one this World of cattle running of a cliff. I would rather be punished for doing what would make the World a better place when I’m gone than to be rewarded for destroying it.

     There is a saying I live by and that is: Some religions say God loves you, but he doesen’t want you in his church if you think different. He still loves you but doesn’t want you in his school, he loves you but doesn’t want you in his neighborhood, he loves you but doesn’t want you in his government, country or planet. My God loves all equally and welcomes everyone equally.

  • Anonymous

    What is your God’s position on the “world of cattle running off a cliff”, comrade?

  • Shumphreys

    You are so right about fat heads printing jibberish!

  • Shumphreys

    Cosmopollyanna? My what big words you use. Twelve steep? I’m making no such suggestion that people follow any such program. You don’t seem to read very well. Nothing pollyanish about accepting life and the world on its terms.

  • Shumphreys

    Oh and Mr. Howard juveniles may see the use of “IT” as information technology but I think more mature audiences will grasp the gist of what I am saying.

  • Shumphreys

    Another thought Mr. Howard and thanks for the impetus that stimulated this thought. I love to play with words! “IT” can stand for information technology. The Bible is a very early form of “IT”–information technology, for it’s age, as were the cave paintings, in France and the American Southwest, the oral stories passed from one generation to another….  What I have realized is that many folks confuse means to an end with the end, and the means becomes the end unto itself. “IT”–information technology, the Bible, art, stories, are means to an end. Unfortunately the IT many folks are searching for isn’t the IT as in the information technology (the Bible) but what that technology was designed to lead them to. Have a great day, you just gave a boost to mine!

  • David F., N.A.

     Yeah, I have to read this to that goth milf who lives down the street.  

    Obviously, I wrote this in reference to what Christian Wiman had said, but by no means am I saying that he’s lost his fight (notice it is all past tense except for the very last line).  Right now he has a chance and I wish – no wait – I hope – no wait – I pray that he will make a full recover.

  • B. Pearlman

    Thought there were moments in this that brought poetry into the forefront of this ‘ultimate concern’ (Tillich) with a bravery and insistence that was refreshing. Wiman may be on to something important and I like the idea of ‘a new language of belief,’ but tied to life and not to traditional religion.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Wow,  M&C moderators edit poetry too. Talent is everywhere. I got my poem right the first time after David warned us about corporate cancer.

  • Sandra Simonds

    What a moving interview. Thanks so much for this. 

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Apparently, we both excel on multiple choice questions and find essay ones solicitous. (We each live in our own bubble.)

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Hey, was that name-calling?
    Probably not. Thanks for noticing me.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Twilight Goth Politics Include:Financial Vampires
    Religious Werewolves
    Medicine Mummies
    Environmental Frankensteins
    and Zombie Pundits
    And other things moderators prefer I not mention

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I agree with what Karl says, but it does raise questions. 
    “What if a crazy lady starts up a bulldozer and pushes over all the trees?”

  • Anonymous

    What exactly did you hear Karl say, comrade?

    He ain’t blaming the trees.

  • Karl Hoff

    Thank you for replying.  My God just creates and does not rule, So it is up to us to protect the cliff with a fence and catch that crazy lady and take the keys away. I just used the cliff as an example of how so much of our lives are ruled simple because so many do it, right or wrong. Just think of what Galileo went through for saying we are going around the sun. They nearly killed him. As we gain knowlege we are finding uses for the most toxic venom, when altered and used in medicine. So to believe our wisdom cannot in time conquer all the dangers we face leads me to often think what it was like for primitive people. I am in awe of how they survived so long ago with out the knowlege, medicines, a comfortable place to live and all the mechanical and technical things we have today.

  • Anonymous

    So your God is responsible for creating but not destroying? That, my friend, is the capitalists’ God too! Yes, who could have imagined?

    Our lives are ruled by convention? And who are our conventions ruled by?

    This, my godless self can praise, however:

    I would rather be punished for doing what would make the World a better place when I’m gone than to be rewarded for destroying it.

    More power to you, comrade. “Our wisdom” is not respected by those infected with the white man’s disease. His toys may just as well kill us all as save himself.

  • Kgehrke3

      in reply to Mary Jane Delaney 2/26 – she expresses my thoughts exactly in regard to your return to to the airways…

    in regard to Christian Wiman’s visit, I felt a strong angst/longing in his voice and words for some peace.  I offer spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle as an expansion to what he has found in traditional religion.  Tolle is that “new voice” with “new words.”  I urge everyone to check him out – lots of him on Youtube to get a taste and he has a website.  The basic teaching:  The space of Now is all that is real – it is eternity.

    Would LOVE to see him visit you Bill.  He has a way of taking one on a journey from the intellect to the “soul.” 

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Creative destruction is like clean coal.
    Well, clean coal is a form of creative destruction. Last night on Frontline they shared information about the Japanese radioactive clean-up industry. No experts exist so they just let usual suspects hire low waged temporary contractors, kind of like the BP spill. Nuclear power is the ultimate creative destruction, more profitable for the biggies than war with Iran.
    Anyway Karl has engaged and is playing the Holden Caulfield role now, the outcome 
    we were seeking. Moyers&Company is considered by me a training school for justice activists and not a barber shop/beauty shop where we dish the dirt.
    Hairstyling may also be creative destruction.
    I hate it when Moyers begins to resemble a John Waters film, just a normalization of the freaky.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I do not want to make Karl Hoff Rickie Gervais’ Carl Pilkington.

  • Jack

    Thank you Bill and Christian.  I think your quiet and dignified witness may have already changed the world.  Certainly, it delighted our Redeemer.

  • Zelda

    I read your poems last night

    I was lost

    in your childhood dreams

    Your joy

    pain and sorrow


    Your belief

    so absolute


    It touched me with envy


    I felt its power within you

    Comforting your pain

    Holding you tight in its mercy


    I could not find it within me

    I have no prayers of love or pain

    There are no heavenly hands

    to cradle my fragile body

    No happy endings

    to the world we suffer



    I envy your faith

  • Anonymous

    You may not be a poet, Bill, but the manner in which you interview people is nothing short of amazing. I am so grateful for the way in which you let people speak their truth.

  • Amourfati1

     thank you Z…-J

  • Spiritualfood

    Hello Chritian Wiman,  The poems that you read with Bill Moyers were great!  But even more fantastic is that you are a philosopher.  To me an ontologist (is that a word).  It is clear to me that god gave you love knowing that you were about to become a sufferer.  And that suffering has given you a gift to communicate to all about suffering and faith.  I love your view of faith.  I also know that everyone must die.  Perhaps your fate is god’s gift that gives you the ability to join all men with a true understanding of faith and suffering.  There is nothing greater than making your mark in someone you love, and then also making your mark  through contribution to those who follow.  I pray for you in yourr suffering and also that others may know what you now know.
    Blesssings,  TOM

  • Deborah

    Thank you for your interview.  I was also diagnosed with NHL six years ago, went through Chemo and also a bone marrow transplant.  I was one of the lucky ones because I was already a Christian and had a deep personal relatianship with Him already.  That is what got me through it all.  I honestly can’t imagine what people go through without this relationship.  I also lost my son of 28 years to cancer three years ago.  My greatest joy and achievement in raising him is that he also embranced the Lord and knew exactly where he was going.  It brought both of us so much peace.  I cry for him, but I KNOW where he is and where I will be someday – joining him.  Out of all that, I started to write my own poetry and prose and started to share it with others.  I have received so many positive remarks about how I said exactly what others were feeling.  My words exemplified what they were going through but didn’t know how to express it.  I believe it was a gift that God gave me to help me through my grief….and also to help others.
    “yet, I will rejoice in the Lord”.

  • Steve Paul

    Please never, ever take this interview off your website. I could watch this once a week, easily.

  • Onoi

    Thank you to Bill Moyers for expanding our awareness of each other across many boundaries which otherwise divide us.

  • 19obert63

    Thank you Christian, Tom and Bill, sharing your wisdom, your emotional intelligence makes me feel as if we are one; a number that is usually difficult to share, you have changed its definition, to include me-how beautiful; thank you Christian, Tom and Bill.

  • Jennifer Berry

    I have been watching this every day. It teaches me how to live. Thank you.

  • Robert Irvine

    Wonderful. At my age of 63 and with a long love of poetry this man’s song is very fine.

  • Terry Helwig

    What an in-depth, profound interview.  Thanks to both of you.  I, too, grew up in West Texas with a bowl of sky overhead.  In Moonlight on Linoleum, I write about my connection to the earth and sky–my balm to a troubled childhood.  Exquisite wonder blazing with sorrow. 

  • Rick Anderson

    Thank you for sharing Christian. Your words and poems are a reminder of how to live consciously. 

  • Tom

     I think faith is personal and unique for each of us. Mine is the journey between hope and despair–and back and forth again and again. I rest in the gospel story of the man who asked Jesus to heal his epileptic son and when asked about his faith, replied, “Lord, I believe; help me with my unbelief.” Jesus healed his son.
    My weak words can’t begin to describe how inspired and humbled I am by Christian Wiman.

  • Sfmurphy91

    I watched this program after having underwent a bone marrow transplant for lymphoma. Christian, your poems and commentary capture what it means to endure treatment, confront death, and embrace life with courage and humility. Mr. Moyers, your program and reporting over the years is a national treasure. Thanks to you both.

  • Maryanne Rusinak

    Yes, indeed a national treasure.  I was also deeply touched by Christian Wiman’s journey of faith in the face of illness.  I have a copy of “every riven thing” in hand as I write this.  Luckily, I live in the Chicago area and plan to share in some events at the Poetry Center where Christian is editor of Poetry Magazine.  To Bill Moyers, your show is the highlight of  Friday night.  As (even) Bill Maher commented, there is no one else on TV who does what you do.

  • Tahamoukite

    Am firm believer in faith and Prayers  & i believe and feel there is God in every living things ….I would like to share my personal journey of self-healing from stage four inoperable,incurable lung cancer –to being cancer free .I have come to realize ,however,that the information and message is much more than simply a story about my own healing,but rather a message that spans all areas of life;a “mental shift”if you will ,that brings happiness,health,love,stability and prosperity…………  or