Last week, I wrote shamefacedly about C S Lewis, a writing hero of mine. Even though I never read any of his works all the way through.
As shocking and embarrassing as that post was — calling a writer my hero when I’ve never read his works cover to cover — it can’t beat today’s post.
Well, at least with Mr. Lewis, I’ve attempted several pages of some of his books. However, for the one I’m going to talk about today? All I can say is I’ve never even read ANYTHING he wrote!
Frederick Buechner (11 Jul 1926 – 15 Aug 2022)
While I’ve certainly seen his name before, Mr. Frederick Buechner (pronounced “beek-ner”) wasn’t a writer I took notice of.
I just placed him on the “beyond-my-reach bookshelves” of my reading life, alongside the likes of D H Lawrence, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Emily Dickinson. These were also folks I knew but from a distance, certain their prose to be beyond my limited ability to comprehend.
But a close friend and mentor sent me an email two weeks ago that changed my mind.
In it, he shared a link to an article written by one of my favorite contemporary writers Mr. David Brooks, an award-winning staple op-ed columnist with The New York Times.
Mr. Buechner had just passed away on 15 August at the ripe old age of 96, and Mr. Brooks had immediately written a tribute to his prolific life that my mentor wasted no time sharing with me.
I’m glad he did.
About my new writing hero Mr. Frederick Buechner
If like me, you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Buechner, here’s what I discovered.
He was born in New York in the year 1926. At the age of ten, his father committed suicide.
That tragedy forever changed the trajectory of his life. His mom relocated the family and, til the day she died, forbade any mention of the incident. The decades of silence likely sowed the seeds for Buechner’s literary genius to emerge. According to those who traced his life and wrote about him, several of Buechner’s books such as “Telling Secrets”, “The Long Way Home” and “The Sacred Journey”, sought to plumb the depths of that singular misfortune; akin to a form of self-therapy.
And just as a moth flitters to a flame, I was drawn irresistibly to Mr. Buechner. Like I always am to tales of broken father-son relationships. This one was no exception, made more captivating because it’s a true story.
True too, it seems, was the following.
After the second of his more than 40 books was published, Mr. Buechner converted to Christianity. In what was nothing short of a miraculous and spiritual encounter.
One day while visiting a church service, Mr. Buechner heard a pastor talk about how Jesus was crowned amid confession, tears, and great laughter. According to Mr. Buechner: “At the phrase ‘great laughter’, for reasons that I have never satisfactorily understood, the great wall of China crumbled and Atlantis rose up out of the sea, and on Madison Avenue, at 73rd Street, tears leapt from my eyes as though I had been struck across the face.”
Wow! The spiritual equivalent of a text slap no less. Just reading that again gives me goosebumps!
Mr. Buechner’s opus
Having uncovered all these gems about Mr. Buechner, I just knew I had to seek out what were his most famous quotable quotes.
I’ve sprinked a couple above via visuals and that conversion tale, but there are a few others that really made my throat tighten and my eyes wet.
Like this one from…
…Now and Then
If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
Or this one from…
…The Return of Ansel Gibbs
“Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: “Can I believe it all again today?” No, better still, don’t ask it till after you’ve read The New York Times, till after you’ve studied that daily record of the world’s brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible. Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day. If your answer’s always Yes, then you probably don’t know what believing means.
At least five times out of ten the answer should be No because the No is as important as the Yes, maybe more so. The No is what proves you’re human in case you should ever doubt it. And then if some morning the answer happens to be really Yes, it should be a Yes that’s choked with confession and tears and. . great laughter.”
Throughout his life, Mr. Buechner straddled uncomfortably the literary and evangelical worlds. His works were deemed too Christian for the former, too secular for the latter.
Knowing that filled my heart with hope and belief, for he epitomises the very slant my writing’s been taking for these past few years. And in that space in between lies the reality of living out a perfect faith in an imperfect world.
Thanks for keeping it real Mr. Buechner! And you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be checking out your books very soon. For what’s that people say? Better late than never, right?