Remembering Frederick Buechner

Posted by on Aug 21, 2022 in Blog | 2 comments

Like many, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Frederick Buechner on Monday 15 August. He was 96 and is survived by his wife Judith who he married in 1956. I always think of Buechner as a theologian and preacher, though most remember him as a novelist, justifying their choice by pointing to his 39 books, one of which (Godric) was a finalist for the 1981 Pulitzer Prize – so this is no light weight we are talking about. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister, he never pastored a church, but through the honesty and the depth of insight in his writing he was, in many ways, a pastor to hundreds of thousands.

I largely remember his work because of his ability to articulate striking truths with clarity and compassion. The depth of his humanity shines through his work, and regardless of if you are reading one of his novels or one of his many non-fiction books, you are advised to have pen and paper at hand – for there is much you will want to jot down and remember. Rather than my simply making this claim, why not read a little Buechner for yourself? Here are a few of my favourite Buechner quotes:

The first is my personal favourite because I have found it to be true: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (In Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC). I love the balance between our “deep” (not shallow) “gladness” and the “world’s deep hunger.” Joy and meeting need does not have to be incompatible. My runner up Buechner quote is: “Go where your best prayers take you.” That needs no commentary from me

And what about this insight into grace and time: “Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” (In The Alphabet of Grace)

This one has been on many Facebook posts I have seen this week (often only a part has been cited): “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

And think of the insight behind this: “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists…” (From Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary)

Or what about this “terrible” question: “I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?” (From: The Magnificent Defeat)

Perhaps you’ve discovered the wisdom behind his invitation to enter A Room Called Remember, and his words, “But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.

And given his recent passing, how can we forget these words: “When you remember me, it means you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.” We will be summoning Buechner back for many a long year – and inevitably, with gratitude that God called him to the place of his “deep gladness”, and in doing so helped meet the “deep hunger” in our heart for words that help us to understand, heal and live.

As always, nice chatting…

Feel free to reproduce this post with acknowledgement or to pass it on to any who might find it helpful.

2 Comments

  1. Comment *“Go where your best prayers take you.” Yes. Truly.

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  1. Remembering Frederick Buechner - Vose Seminary - […] post Remembering Frederick Buechner appeared first on Brian […]
  2. Where our best prayers take us... - Brian Harris - […] previous post noted the passing of Frederick Buechner and tapped into some of his wisdom. In this one I’d…

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