I discovered you first in a literature class about thirteen years ago. The class was called Faith & Doubt and you and your Sacred Journey were hidden among other greats by Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton.
I was somewhere around twenty years old and, with thirteen years of faith under my belt, was now deep and dark into a season of doubt. I was confused and angry and, studying among people for whom faith was an unspoken expectation rather than a matter of patience and cultivation, I felt misunderstood and alone.
Have you ever met someone for the first time and, in a matter of only moments, found that there is some deep soul comradery between you that makes you feel instantly like kin rather than strangers? With whom the conversation comes with ease and familiarity? Have you ever had a friend for whom you didn’t need to explain yourself? With whom a mutual understanding made them a place of comfort and rest when the rest of the world felt tense and turbulent?
Your story is different than mine.
But beneath the story I read in that class and the many stories I’ve read of yours since, I found something I desperately needed. I found someone who understood the soul longing that I felt but couldn’t express because the only words I had to use were hopeless words and I still had hope.
You helped me find the place where faith and doubt are a dance, not a battle.
When I discovered you, I found the words to give life to my doubt in a way that let me move through it instead of wallowing in it, words that let me be honest and brave and audacious enough to believe that I could be my crooked, confused, heart-broken self and still be counted among the saints.
And you let me say it all out loud. You showed me it could be done. (Thank you.)
There were a few years during which your words were the only words I could use. You helped me learn to pray again. And I still appeal to you often when I don’t know what to say. When my prayers don’t come easy. Or when the world is scary and painful and I wish I knew how to comfort a hurting friend.
Or when I need to be reminded that I’m not the only one of the disciples still sleeping with one eye open and my hand on my wallet. I see you. I’m here, too. And there are many more here with us.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Buechner.
You’ve given more than you know.
*On the occasion of his 90th birthday (which falls on July 11th), Frederick Buechner has released Buechner 101, a curated collection of sermons and essays. Get yourself a copy for a window into his world.