The great writer, pastor, and theologian Frederick Buechner passed away yesterday.
I’m not an expert on his life, so I won’t belabor the facts apart from saying he was a Presbyterian minister and author of 39 published works, of various genres, and he died peacefully at the age of 96.
But, while the news is fresh and the urge to memorialize is strong, I want to share a few, brief words about what Frederick Buechner’s writing has meant to me.
I have written about Buechner a few times before, here and here. And I’ve probably mentioned or quoted him at other points that I cannot recall. So, if you’re a reader of mine, you’ve likely heard his name.
My introduction to Frederick Buechner was about twenty years ago, through a literature class in college called Faith & Doubt. Buechner’s The Sacred Journey was on the syllabus.
At the time, I was studying worship arts at a Christian college and, ironically (?), deeply struggling with my faith. From the moment I opened it, Buechner’s book was like a balm for my soul. I had come to the end of myself and my ability to process my struggle. Buechner’s book gave me language to express the spiritual angst I was feeling and let me know I was not alone. And, more than that, it gave me a glimpse of something beyond the struggle and into a place “beyond time,” where all things would be reconciled.
Shortly after reading The Sacred Journey, I mentioned the book to a friend and he asked, “But have you read Godric?!”
And that’s when I went down the rabbit hole.
In the years that followed, I read many of his books.
I read most of his fiction–Godric, Brendan, The Storm, On the Road with the Archangel, Son of Laughter, the four books of The Book of Bebb.
I read his four memoirs.
And I dug into his nonfiction, particularly his sermons and his books about preaching and writing.
I bought copies of my favorites. I gave copies away. I bought them as gifts. I pulled them off the shelf when I needed a friend.
Over the past twenty years, Frederick Buechner has become my own “personal theologian.”
I could get in trouble for saying that among my Reformed Presbyterian brethren, because Buechner could certainly fly a little loose with his theology. He could stretch Biblical narratives in ways that make some uncomfortable. He was colorful with metaphors and a bit audacious in his suggestions about how to apply them.
I would not have depended on Frederick Buechner to define my systematics, to be sure, but he helped craft some of the deeper, internal parts of my faith expression. He helped me reconcile my faith with the seemingly irreconcilable experiences of longing, doubt, pain, sadness, and remembrance. He helped me redefine the concept of “saint” and cultivated a generous spirit in me toward others on the journey of faith.
I can sense a bit of him in the cadence of my own writing and, most certainly, in the content. I’ve written more than a few songs inspired by him. And I’ve been pleased to introduce friends to his writing.
Not everyone loves reading him, of course.
There is a roundabout, indirect style to his writing that some readers find tedious. There is some redundancy in his sermons and memoirs. (He certainly had a “schtick.”)
I’ve never been offended by someone that wasn’t a Buechner fan.
But I’ve never met a Buechner fan I didn’t like.
I’m so thankful to have discovered him.
He’s been such a gift to me and so many others.
Happy Homecoming, Mr. Buechner.
All that’s been lost is found again.