Christine R. Wiebe

Vol. 2, No. 6

In This Issue

Christine Ruth Wiebe (1954-2000) was a poet, writer, seeker, healer, nurse--a Mennonite daughter, devoted sister and friend, Catholic oblate, and Christian mystic. This issue of the Journal devoted to her poetry and to reflections about her life and work is the second part of a double issue devoted to the life and work of two unique women artists from Mennonite origins: Sylvia Gross Bubalo and Christine Wiebe. Because of size limitations, the issue was published in two parts. “The Prophetic Art of Sylvia Gross Bubalo: Enabling Constraints I” was published in September 2010 and can be found in the issue archive.

Christine Wiebe was born into a Mennonite Brethren family. Her pastor father Walter Wiebe died in 1962 when Christine was six years old. Her mother, Katie Funk Wiebe, a professor of English and Journalism at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas for 24 years, became a strong feminist voice within the church and one of its most prolific writers (see her author biography in this issue). To be born into such a family with a gift for writing is not surprising, but to find one’s own voice and to carve an authentic path in writing in this context can be a daunting task.

Christine’s biography reveals a sensitive and joyful spirit intent on imprinting her vivid impressions of life in language. From a young age she created hand-made books, hand-stitched together like Emily Dickinson’s. Her writings continued to translate for friends and close family members her personal experiences of illness and recovery as she struggled to return from the threshold of death. While she longed for a life of both service to others through healing and through translating her most intense experiences in poetry, and was able to accomplish much in both areas, her lupus, and especially the medications used to treat it, made her vulnerable to heart failure and strokes which presented themselves as hard lessons and powerful subject matter for transformation into art. From these experiences she wrote and illustrated a book, How to Stay Alive, for family and friends.

This issue features a selection of Christine’s poetry, published here for the first time, excerpts and lively illustrations from How to Stay Alive, a tribute by poet Jeff Gundy, a reflection on Wiebe’s poetry by literary scholar and poet Ellen Kroeker, whose poem for Christine is also published here, a memoir by her sister Joanna Wiebe, a biographical sketch by her mother Katie Funk Wiebe, and a complete bibliography of Christine’s published work.

In Christine’s writings and life there will be much of interest to those who seek to articulate a spiritual pilgrimage in the arts, to reconcile the demands of earning a living the call to make art, and to discover a healing journey in illness and limitation. In another time and another faith, Christine might have been a Theresa of Avila. As George Eliot remarks in her Prelude to Middlemarch, there are many St. Theresas born who do not end up finding their moments of grandeur or founding an order. But fortunately for us, Christine found poetry as a vehicle to express her longings and her love of life. Her poems compel us to experience language in a new way; her journals offer insights to readers who seek to understand the artist’s vocation, and companionship for those engaged in the struggle to create.

– Ann Hostetler, Guest Editor

In this issue:

  • 1 read more SELECTED POEMS

    SELECTED POEMS

    by Christine Ruth Wiebe

    These poems were selected from a manuscript of over 100 poems culled by Katie Funk Wiebe and Joanna Wiebe from Christine Wiebe’s papers. This thematic selection of poems suggests the range of Christine’s interests and the depth to which she probed them. Her poems are deeply sensitive to language as a tool of creation, disturbance, and integration. The section titles—Words, Father Loss, The Body, Nature’s Order, Exploration, Oblate, Dreams—have been created by the editor.--AH

  • 0 read more How to Stay Alive

    How to Stay Alive

    by Christine Ruth Wiebe

    Christine Wiebe wrote this book with the hope that her personal responses to her illness would help those in similar circumstances, or those close to people living with chronic illness. A limited edition was produced for her family and friends. We are please to publish excerpts from it with the permission of Katie Funk Wiebe. All of the illustrations are also by Christine Wiebe--AH

  • 0 read more

    A Few Words for Christine Wiebe

    by Jeff Gundy

    We arrived at Hesston College in fall 1980, almost exactly thirty years ago. The job had come up unexpectedly—I had planned to stay in grad school and finish my dissertation—but then, as now, times were tough in academia, and who could pass up actual, full-time employment? My lofty ABD status got me a corner office in the library, with not one but two narrow windows. My wife Marlyce had been hired to type letters and answer the phone for the religion department. We felt like we were finally joining the grown-up world.

    In the office next to mine, I soon ...

  • 0 read more Her Spirit, a Small Bird with Color

    Her Spirit, a Small Bird with Color

    by Ellen Kroeker

    She turns fiercely to her right,

    Curling to the lost comfort of sleep or rest. She searches

    For the childhood position,

    Its sweet familiarity, even

    As her breath becomes ragged.

    Demerol dims the pain yet she moans.

    Here lies my friend after a life

    Of doctors and medicines

    And dismal diagnoses. Here sister

    Leans over her, stroking her hair,

    Kissing her cheek. For her sister,

    She rests, her breath smooth to a matched

    Rhythm. The room becomes spacious.

    She opens her eyes and smiles

    Such a radiance, much like

    The flash of a scarlet tanager

    Or a goldfinch in a darkening

    Woods. She knows this is

    Happening. She curls herself

    Into our hearts' nests and then,

    Like a bird off a branch,

    She springs forth.

  • 0 read more Writing, Interrupted

    Writing, Interrupted

    by Ellen Kroeker

    The poetry of Christine Wiebe is in piles on the table. There are multiple, undated versions, organized in various ways. It is as if she has stepped away from her work, intending to come back with an organizational strategy. But of course she is now ten years gone from this earth and she is not coming back to organize them, to decipher the meanings or the preferred versions. Her life had many major interruptions, interruptions by serious illness and several near death encounters.

    So the reviewer is denied the authorial intent or even a chronology that allows pontifications about the ...

  • 0 read more Christine the Storyteller

    Christine the Storyteller

    by Joanna Wiebe

    “As a young child,” Christine wrote about herself, “I was so quiet and reticent that my maternal grandmother thought there was something wrong with me. I suppose I lagged on those charts that they now use to track baby’s progress, at least in terms of speech. But thrown in the Wiebe household, always thick with books and conversation, I eventually learned to talk and read children’s books.” She adored Blueberries for Sal, and Blue Willow, and many more.

    The trauma of losing her father when she was six years old reinforced Christine’s tendency to turn inward. Although she ...

  • 1 read more “Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses”

    “Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses”

    by Katie Funk Wiebe

    Hearts starve as well as bodies;

    Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

    Give us bread, but give us roses.

    Christine Ruth Wiebe’s life was exemplified by this 1912 fragment of a protest song found in her files on a scrap of paper. Through the decades many individuals and groups picked up the refrain. She knew her body needed bread to survive, but also that her spirit withered without the beauty of friends, words and spiritual nurture. She wanted both bread and roses.

    Childhood and early education

    She was born into a Mennonite Brethren family on Nov. 19, 1954, while we ...

  • 2 read more  Bibliography of Christine R. Wiebe’s Writing

    Bibliography of Christine R. Wiebe’s Writing

    by Katie Funk Wiebe

    ESSAYS:

    “Pacifist aim is peace,” Tabor College View. 12 March 12 1976.

    “The Year Daddy Died” in Alone: A Widow’s Search for Joy by Katie Funk Wiebe. Tyndale House Publishers, 1976. (Also in British, South African, German and Finnish editions)

    “How did I get into this? Or, why I joined MCC. ” The Christian Leader, 31 July 1979, 5-6.

    “The Year Daddy Died. With Magazine, January 1978.

    “‘The Caging of Chris” in Good Times with Old Times: How to Write Your Memoirs by Katie Funk Wiebe, Herald Press, 1979.

    “Irene L. Bishop,” “Cornelius Wall,” in Something Meaningful ...