Buechner, the Sage

Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister, writer and theologian, died this week at the age of 96. His novels (try Goodrich and Brendan) are filled with spiritual yet earthy wonderings, his autobiographical trilogy (The Sacred Journey, Now and Then, and Telling Secrets) is heart-breaking yet hopeful. His collections of sermons (The Clown in the Belfry, A Room Called Remember) are rich devotionally, and he writes short reflections on biblical characters (Peculiar Treasures) and theological words (Wishful Thinking, which are my favorite of all (Wishful Thinking, Whistling in the Dark). I have them all in my library, so stop by and I’ll get you going!

When I arrived at Winnetka Covenant Church now 33 years ago to begin as youth pastor, Pastor Bob Dvorak promptly took me to lunch and handed over a few of Frederick’s treasures with the caveat, “Read em, and we’ll talk.” And I did and we did, and my pilgrim journey with Frederick Buechner began.

His premise through all his work is that “At it’s heart most theology, like most fiction, is essentially autobiography…that is to say, I cannot talk about God or sin or grace, for example, without at the same time talking about those parts of my own experience where these ideas become compelling and real.” (The Alphabet of Grace)

And grace abounds. I must share here my favorite lines of all his tomes, which his little reflection on “GRACE” from Wishful Thinking:

“After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody’s much interested anymore. Not so with Grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.

Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.

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.”

Rest In Peace and rise in glory, Frederick. Thanks be to God!

Peter Hawkinson

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