First impressions are usually lasting, and that was certainly the case with my introduction to Frederick Buechner, which came through a Luci Shaw poem. She quoted these nourishing words in a season of seeking intimacy with God: “Beat a trail to God long enough, and he will come to you on the trail you have beaten, bringing you the gift of himself.” Buechner (pronounced “Beek-ner”) offered the gift of the right words at the right time for me, as he seemed to be describing the spiritual pacing that comprised the prayer life of a busy mum.
Later, Buechner’s was the voice I heard connecting the dots between my “deep gladness” and the “world’s deep hunger” as I learned the nature of calling–in between vacuuming floors and making stacks of peanut butter sandwiches. When I discovered that Jeffrey Munroe had written a book featuring Buechner’s memoirs, novels, theological works, and his sermons, I knew it was time to dig in and become better acquainted with the author whose quotable words kept drawing me in.
In some ways, Buechner was formed by horror and pain: he was ten years old when his father committed suicide. Later, his brother passed away, and his daughter suffered from an ongoing struggle with anorexia nervosa. Munroe (his biographer) has also traveled through some deep sorrow and, in Reading Buechner, he asserts that tragedy, rather than turning him away from God, invited him to ask, along with his literary mentor, “What is God saying here?”–a timely question for all of us in a season of pandemic.
Buechner’s multi-genre giftedness encourages a reader to follow a theme from his fiction into his more theological writing, and then to connect the dots to his life story, so generously poured out in seven works of memoir. All Buechner’s work challenges me. As a conservative evangelical, I wish he would color inside the theological lines on points like the sovereignty of God. And, having raised four rowdy boys, I should be immune to the stomach-turning preponderance of bodily fluids and functions and the coarse observations of the characters in Buechner’s fiction. After all, in Godric’s and Brendan’s Middle Ages, everyone was terminal and toothless by the age of forty (and illiterate to boot), so what else was there to talk about?
Whether you’ve been reading Buechner all your life, or, like me, you’ve been bumping into his quotable words and thinking it’s time to get better acquainted, Reading Buechner is an enlightening and accessible celebration of the richness of Buechner’s work. When my sons were born, and now as we welcome grandchildren into our family and into the world, Frederick Buechner’s writing offers a framework to support my embrace of paradox–and I continue to harvest his words these days to express my heart as a believing grandmother who longs to protect and nurture, but has learned some things about the long shadow of pain:
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.”
Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Grace and peace to you,
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