“I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life” (236). Thus says Frederick Buechner, feeling embarrassment caused by a letter that gushes of the life-saving nature of his words. This is why I am drawn in like a moth to the flame to his books. This gives me permission – more of a command really – that I am not to hide my own thoughts and words of encouragement away from the world just because I need my own words more than anyone.
I believe that most of our secrets are bound to two of the most powerful tools of darkness that I know: SHAME and BITTERNESS. Both cause us to box away any love and goodness that we have to give. Both are arms of the life-sucking, heart-suffocating monster of unforgiveness. And the result of that is devastating. “Not to give of ourselves to the human beings we know who may be starving not for food but for what we have in our hearts to nourish them with is to be, ourselves, diminished and crippled as human being” (250). Then, as we are crippled, we begin to resent ourselves and those who have wounded us even more, and the downward cycle continues.
How do we stop this madness? Years of psychotherapy? Drown it with the bottle, or the refrigerator, or busy-ness, or entertainment? Maybe more effectively, the answer is to step bravely out of the shadows in love. Maybe there are times when love is but a flicker, but we give what we have like the poor woman at the temple and her little coin. “Literally or figuratively, for you and me to feed each other, to tend to each other’s needs, one way or another to take care of each other, is more and more to become part of the dance of earth and sky and men and women and water and beasts that according to the psalmist makes the floods clap their hands and the hills sing together for joy” (243). Yes, please. Sign me up. Break me free of my prideful self-obsession with my own failures so I can dance, so I can love.
No darkness is too dark. No fall is too far. No failure is beyond recovery. Even “when we feel the most spiritually bankrupt and deserted by him, his mark is deep within us. We have God’s joy in our blood” (240). It is possible that we will fail to be brave in this life, that we will hide behind our labyrinth built tall and high with our hedges of fear and shame and anger, but even in that sad story, the story doesn’t end there. Our essential, eternal self will be rescued and immersed in his joy in the end.
In a world of Insta-everything, where most of our “friends” are filtered and edited and polished to an almost painful shine, it is vital that we dig deeper to find points of authentic fellowship. “I don’t think it is always necessary to talk about the deepest and most private dimension of who we are, but I think we are called to talk to each other out of it, and just as importantly to listen to each other out of it, to live out of our depths as well as our shallows” (220). In this light, every encounter can be life-giving, love-giving, if only in the smallest and gentlest of ways. And this is where we will taste the joy, his joy, that runs hot and sweet through our veins.
“The final secret, I think is this, that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been to the wilderness with us” (103-104). This is the promise that I rest in today. This is the promise that pray I remember the next time I lose my way.
I could write an entire book in response to this book, Secrets in the Dark – A Life in Sermons. But I just gave you a few high points. Get a copy. Sit in it for a while. Mark it up and fold back almost every page like I did. I am not the same as when I started it.
The quotes match up with the page numbers in the paperback copy as pictured.
If you are still with me at the end here, I would love it if you would leave me a comment telling me about a book that you have read recently that has left its mark on you.