Life to the Whole Being: The Spiritual Memoir of a LIterature Professor was written by BYU English professor Matthew Wickman. To be completely honest, I’m not sure it was a book I would have picked up on my own. Although I read a lot, I tend to be a fairly lazy reader and I don’t like to have to dig for the gems that true literature offers.
But if I had let that limiting thought keep me from reading this book, I would have missed out on a beautiful, complicated, and real story about discipleship and spirituality.
One of the reasons Wickman presents his memoir within the framework of literature, besides the fact that it’s his area of expertise, is this:
A graduate school friend, and Church member once remakred to me, astutely, that if one surveys all the world’s civilizations over the course of known history, one can find plenty of examples of societies that had no concept of private property or insurance industries or professional sports teams or universities or lawyers or finance capitalists or plastic surgeons (and so on and so on). But there is no example, not one, of societies that had no art. Art, apparently, is a universal human need.p. 59, emphasis mine
At the time I first read that paragraph, I was also preparing a Sunday School lesson on the book of Psalms. A book of music. A book of art. Even the scriptures exemplify the importance of art in learning and expressing eternal truths.
Wickman hooked me. I was all in.
Wickman’s memoir conveys the important reminder that spiritual journies are rarely as clean cut as we wish they were.
I wasn’t searching for a different gospel, but wow, did I ever desire a different way of communicating its message – one that merged more seamlessly with the actual lives of real people, one that spoke in their own language (not French but something more artful and divinie: the language of the Spirit).p. 71
He also details the real work that is involved in being a disciple of Christ.
It has compelled me to do things I did not initially wish to do (like serve a mission); it has forced me to immerse myself in a culture, even practices, I describe as clunky; the truths it reveals have also exposed or opened gaps, large and small, in my understanding; and the termenologiy it has given me through which to communicate the things of God … has constrained me by the same measure. … But I have returned, chapter after chapter, to the blessing the Church has also been to me.p. 199
But his lifetime of study, struggle, and faith has created a beautiful and empathetic understanding of who Christ is, our relationship to Him, and the blessings that come as we continue to walk along the covenant path:
To have any spiritual experience – whether directly religious or simply in feeling a sense of greater connectedness, radiant vitality, trancendent purpose, sacred presence, or ultimate meaning – is already to be the beneficiary of Christ’s atonement.p. 205, emphasis original
Those that struggle, those that question, those that wander, and those who continually keep moving are all eligible for Christ’s atonement. Learning about the experiences of Wickman, who in some ways is very similar to me and in other ways is remarkably different, has helped me to better appreciate the spiritual experiences in my own life. To better see Him in art, music, literature, questions, conversations, and relationships. I said at the beginning that I might not have picked up this book on my own, but I am so glad I did.