“When I forget the power of the word, I read Frederick Buechner. When I forget the deep relief of telling the truth, I read Frederick Buechner. When I forget to look for the holiness all around me, I read Frederick Buechner. When I forget why the gospel matters, I read Frederick Buechner.”
-Barbara Brown Taylor
Several years ago, my friend Kenny Payne gave me a book by a guy named Frederick Buechner. Kenny had written a short note to me on the first blank page, which he signed and dated. It was a meaningful gift and I sincerely thanked him for it. Then, I put the book on my shelf and promptly forgot about it. I was already reading other things, and, frankly, it just got lost in the shuffle. I didn’t give it much more thought until I was reading Brian McLaren’s “The Secret Message of Jesus” in which he quoted Buechner talking about watching killer whales perform at Sea World:
“…What with the dazzle of sky and sun, the beautiful young people on the platform, the soft southern air, and the crowds all around us watching the performance with a delight matched only by what seemed the delight of the performing whales, it was as if the whole creation—men and women and beasts and sun and water and earth and sky and, for all I know, God himself—was caught up in one great, jubilant dance of unimaginable beauty. And then, right in the midst of it, I was astonished to find that my eyes were filled with tears…We shed tears because we had caught a glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom and it had almost broken our hearts. For a few minutes we had seen Eden and been a part of the great dance that goes on at the heart of creation. We shed tears because we were given a glimpse of the way life was created to be and is not…Joy is home, and I believe the tears that came to our eyes were more than anything else homesick tears.”
I don’t know if it was the beauty of the language or the profound insight of it that grabbed me, but I was hooked. I found the old book that Kenny had given me on my shelf and devoured it. I ordered more. I devoured them too. Buechner is an artist with words, and he paints gorgeous pictures with them…the light and the darkness swirling. He gently invites us to open our eyes to the messiness and mystery of it all. He lets the complicated stay complicated. With unflinching, beautiful honesty, his words ache with the brokenness of the world and of ourselves, while never obscuring the hope that permeates it all. Over the years, he has given me new eyes to see and new ears to hear. In a very real sense, he saved my soul…over and over again…more times that I can count. With laughter and tears, he showed me how faith and doubt can dance together to a song of hope. I actually have passages marked in his books that I go back to when I need them. The one I probably come back to more often than any other is this:
“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”
Do yourself a favor. Go to a bookstore or a library and find something…anything by Frederick Buechner.
You’ll be glad you did.
Grace & Peace,
Adam Ellis is married to Dana and is the father of 2 girls. He’s got an MTS from Lipscomb University, is a former youth and college minister, and currently preaches for a church in South Carolina. He’s also an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies. Make sure you check out his blog here.