My favorite author celebrates his 90th year of life today. This post is going to be longer than my usual posts, but you can handle it – and by “you”, I mean my parents and my fellow Frederick Buechner fans.
It might be sensationalized media coverage, but it seems that darkness often has the last say these days. This world is fragile and violent and scary, but darkness is not the end of the story!
“The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.” – The Final Beast.
I should just stop typing. What is left to say? And yet, there are other passages I love just as much, so I must go on.
I get a sense when reading Mr. Buechner that the jarringly personal struggle is close – either in his very own heart or the hearts of ones he knows intimately. There are passages that make me squirm because they are harsh and raw and expose parts of me that nobody knows. And then I realize he wrote them because everybody knows if they are honest, because they are about all of us. We all have squirmy parts. Maybe we suppress them. Maybe life has not yet pried up that particular rock. Maybe we keep life so boring and orderly that the rocks cannot be pried.
One of Buechner’s characters that grabbed me the most was Kenzie from The Storm. At the end of the book, he sits and writes “I’m sorry” over and over again in every language he “has a smattering of”. I cried over that passage, wanting to tell this poor soul that he was terribly, wholly forgiven. And then I realized that the poor soul was actually my own, and I was crying over me, and I was trying to grasp the fact that I was the one forgiven.
But how this truth slips away on the slimy walls of shame and pride, so I never fully hold it. I ask for the same forgiveness again and again. And I ask God to convince me again of what I have known in moments to be true – that I am more healed than I know – that somehow, someday, complete healing will come and I will be able to rest.
Buechner shows us The Story – it is everywhere. It is in the plants, the sky, the water, the spider’s web, our own hearts, and in all the crazy people around us. It is in human torment and joy and ineptitude and discovery. It is easier to see it in the broken people – maybe all their cracks allow us to see some element of that divine image that is all covered up in the polished people. Maybe that is why Jesus hung out with the hooligans – all their cracks gave him somewhere to pour in all that love.
I try to participate in The Story in my own small way because when I sit on the sidelines I can feel the fading of my soul. This passage from Secrets in the Dark gave words to that fading feeling for me:
“Not to help find some way to feed the children who are starving to death is to have some precious part of who we are starve to death with them. 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 beings.”
What if a whole bunch of people on this planet grabbed hold of that truth? What kind of place would this be?!
I don’t know if I’ll write the book or books that seem to swirl around inside me somewhere. I find them now in bits and fragments that don’t fit together yet. But if I do write the book – and as I continue to write my little posts – I will never pretend. I will have to tell The Story as it shows itself to me. I will honor my fellow humans in all of their glorious and complicated brokenness. If I cannot add honesty, grace, compassion and kindness with my words, then I do not want to write.
So thank you, Frederick Buechner, for setting the mark high. My life, for one, is deeply changed.
Again from Secrets in the Dark: “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.”
This is what I believe – at least all the days I am able to believe. It was reading Buechner’s books that first gave me peace about unbelief, that let me know that my sometimes lengthy moments of doubt do not undo the long periods of belief. That is my wilderness, and God does not desert me there. In fact, it is often the place where I am mysteriously renewed.
At the end of my earthly days, these are the words that I hope to say to my children and my friends, “If I loved him with less than all my heart, soul, mind, I loved him with at least as much of them as I had left for loving anything.” Amen.