intro’d via the remarkable ordinary (
on hold) – thanks library
Carl Frederick Buechner (/ˈbiːknər/ BEEK-nər; born July 11, 1926) is an American writer, novelist, poet, autobiographer, essayist, preacher, and theologian.
During Buechner’s early childhood the family moved frequently, as Buechner’s father searched for work. In The Sacred Journey Buechner recalls: “Virtually every year of my life until I was fourteen, I lived in a different place, had different people to take care of me, went to a different school. The only house that remained constant was the one where my maternal grandparents lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh called East Liberty…Apart from that one house on Woodland Road, home was not a place to me when I was a child. It was people.” This changed in 1936, when Buechner’s father committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, a result of his conviction that he had been a failure.
Immediately following his father’s death, the family moved to Bermuda, where they remained until World War II forced the evacuation of Americans from the island. In Bermuda, Buechner experienced “the blessed relief of coming out of the dark and unmentionable sadness of my father’s life and death into fragrance and greenness and light.” For a young Buechner, Bermuda became home.
It was during one of Buttrick’s sermons that Buechner heard the words that inspired his ordination: Buttrick described the inward coronation of Christ as taking place in the hearts of those who believe in him “among confession, and tears, and great laughter.
Thence came the idea to write about the everyday events of life, Buechner writes in Now and Then: “as the alphabet through which God, of his grace, spells out his words, his meaning, to us. So The Alphabet of Grace was the title I hit upon, and what I set out to do was to try to describe a single representative day of my life in a way to suggest what there was of God to hear in it.
The publication of A Long Day’s Dying catapulted Buechner into early and, in his own words, “undeserved” fame. Of his debut novel, Buechner wrote: “I took the title from a passage in Paradise Lost where Adam says to Eve that their expulsion from Paradise “will prove no sudden but a slow pac’d evil,/ A Long Day’s Dying to augment our pain,” and with the exception of the old lady Maroo, what all the characters seem to be dying of is loneliness, emptiness, sterility, and such preoccupation with themselves and their own problems that they are unable to communicate with each other about anything that really matters to them very much. I am sure that I chose such a melancholy theme partly because it seemed effective and fashionable, but I have no doubt that, like dreams generally, it also reflected the way I felt about at least some dimension of my own life and the lives of those around me.”
Conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein commented on the novel: “I have rarely been so moved by a perception. Mr. Buechner shows a remarkable insight into one of the least easily expressible tragedies of modern man; the basic incapacity of persons really to communicate with one another. That he has made this frustration manifest, in such a personal and magnetic way, and at the age of twenty-three, constitutes a literary triumph.”
shaw communication law et al
he wrote in the sacred journey: About ten years ago I gave a set of lectures at Harvard in which I made the observation that all theology, like all fiction, is at its heart autobiography, and that what a theologian is doing essentially is examining as honestly as he can the rough-and-tumble of his own experience with all its ups and downs, its mysteries and loose ends, and expressing in logical, abstract terms the truths about human life and about God that he believes he has found implicit there. More as a novelist than as a theologian, more concretely than abstractly, I determined to try to describe my own life as evocatively and candidly as I could in the hope that such glimmers of theological truth as I believed I had glimpsed in it would shine through my description more or less on their own. It seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that if God speaks to us at all in this world, if God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks.”
Buechner’s most recent publications include Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons by Frederick Buechner (2014), The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life (2017), and A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory (2017).
Of his more recent style, the pastor and author Brian D. McLaren says: “I have no desire to analyze what makes Buechner’s writing and preaching so extraordinary. Neither do I want to account for Bob Dylan’s raspy mystique, the peculiar beauty of a rainbow trout in a riffle, or a thunderstorm’s magnetic terror. I simply want to enjoy them. They all knock me out of analysis and smack me clear into pleasure and awe.
Throughout Buechner’s work his hallmark as a theologian and autobiographer is his regard for the appearance of the divine in daily life. By examining the day-to-day workings of his own life, Buechner seeks to find God’s hand at work, thus leading his audience by example to similar introspection. The Reverend Samuel Lloyd describes his “capacity to see into the heart of every day,” an ability that reflects the significance of daily events onto the reader’s life as well. In the words of the preacher Barbara Brown Taylor: “From [Buechner] I’ve learned that the only limit to the revelation going on all around me is my willingness to turn aside and look.“
In 2008 Rich Barlowe wrote of Buechner in the Boston Globe, “Who knows? The words are Frederick Buechner’s mantra. Over the course of an hourlong chat with the writer and Presbyterian minister in his kitchen, they recur any number of times in response to questions about his faith and theology. Dogmatic religious believers would dismiss the two words as the warning shot of doubt. But for Buechner, it is precisely our doubts and struggles that mark us as human. And that insight girds his theological twist on Socrates: The unexamined human life is a lost chance to behold the divine.”