the remarkable ordinary

(2017) by Frederick Buechner



john ortberg: he isn’t trying to persuade – he’s trying to understand what he himself believes and thinks. and that honesty is more persuasive than the most polished argument

john’s soul keeping


foreward (john sloan – editor)

it (book) is not ordinary because it points to the extraordinary that we can find i every day we wake, in every discussion we have, in every walk we take, in ever moment we come upon.. buechner convinces us that every moment is worth it.. our steps are all the beginnings of a walk into a hall of art, life, and meaning that will never disappoint



i am haunted now as i never was before by the sense that we all of us have the mark of god’s thumb upon us.. we have the image of god w/in us.. we have a holy place w/in us that gets messed up in a million ways.. but it’s there.. and more and more i find myself turning inward toward that and truing to learn how to be quiet..

so i’m writing, i suppose, hoping to get another few steps in that direction, toward turning off he eternal chatter, the endless dialogue that goes on inside most of us.. or at lead, i can speak only for myself, to stop those words and just to exist somehow in the fulness and unspeakableness of the present and to let whatever is down in the holy place drift up.. to live out of that inner holy place..

part 1 – stop, look, and listen for god

1 – the remarkable ordinary


i also decided that art and religion, though the people whose eyes roll up in their heads don’t immediately think so, have great deal to do w each other.. they’re both working in very much the same ways and to very much the same end.. let’s look at what art at is best really does..

ie: haiku .. simplest.. most minimal.. form of lit..


whole genius of haiku.. they don’t mean anything.. people who try to figure out what a haiku means are beating up the wrong path.. ..all of these things that other lit might be attempting are not attempted by the haiku at all.. the haiku settles for doing, as i read it anyway, on very simple but very crucial thing – ti tries to put a frame around the moment. it simply frames a moment.. of course, as soon as you put a frame around anything, you set it off, you make it visible, you make it real.. haiku enable us to see.. to experience.. this moment that is framed..

if you/i had been along by the side of the pond.. chances are we wouldn’t even have noticed the frog jumping .. we have other things on our mind.. we have a place we’re going and place we’ve come from.. other things are happening.. your head itches, a cloud passes over the sun..


we wouldn’t have noticed it, perhaps, or if we hd , chances are we wouldn’t dismissed it by naming it.. just a frog jumping into a pond.. we do that all of the time, i think. we name it out of existence.. thought it out of its reality

but what the haiku does is simply to say, no.. don’t do any of those things, don’t think about it.. don’t name it, just experience it.. hear/see/smell it.. participate in it.. i think that is what all lit, basically, is doing

writing does a lot of other things, of course. people write books to instruct. . to move/scare/enlighten us.. but basically what these works of lit or of art are doing is to say, stop thinking.. stop expecting. stop living in the past/future.. stop doing anything and just pay attention to this.. lit .. before it is saying anything else, is saying.. be mindful.. notice.. allow yourself to be seized by this..


it (writing) also enable s us to stop.. one of thing i’m always looking for in my old age is a way to stop the chatter that goes on inside of all of us.. any book that really works for you stops that chatter.. it enables you to escape – for as long as you are grasped by it – the confines of being you


you can sort of cast off the uniform of your own flesh in some funny way and put on the uniform of somebody else’s skin.. you can escape the little world that’s inside your skin and live inside the world that the writer produces for you.. it can be an escape in a frivolous sense, just escaping form you – which is .. rather nice to have happen – but escaping from you into something richer, realer, more immediate and more shimmering.. ie: guy started singing his prayer.. i was so caught up in it.. the shimmeringness of it, the un repeatableness of it.. the un verbalizableness of it..

so art is saying stop.. it makes us see in a way we would never have seen under normal circumstances of living.. as so many of us do, on sort of auto pilot.. going thru world w/o really seeing much of anything


(on painting asking you to see) if you’re like me.. you see so little. you see what you expect to see rather than what’s there

painter is saying.. see what’s there.. what’s really present.. see yourself.. see each other

magis esse quam videri


and then music.. whatever music is.. i don’t really know .. it’s sound.. but it seems to me the medium of music is basically time.. whereas the medium of painting is space.. in a painting you put one thing next to another.. .. but the musician deals in time.. one note follows another.. i think the musician is trying to say.. listen to time, pay attention to the sounds and the silences of time. experience the richness of time

pay attention to the quality kairos of time.. good/sad time.. et al.. (rather than the chronos – chronological.. time to eat et al)


keep time musically.. but also.. keep in touch w it.. keep your hand on it somehow.. keep in touch w the sadness of your own time.. the joy of time.. the marvelousness of time.. the terror of time.. the emptiness of time.. the fullness of time..

also saying.. listen to the music of your own life.. the voices of people .. the slamming of the door. the patter of feet.. .. it is the song out of time that sings to you..


move yourself away from the tumble and rush.. the surface of time, chronological time.. look deep into time for whatever it is that lies at the heart of it..

then ballet.. dance.. working both in time and space..

so generally.. the arts frame our life for us so that we will experience it .. pay attention to it


i did not see anything because i was so caught up in an inner dialogue


(on character in catcher in the rye see beyond the pimp et al) then there’s that wonder passage in cs lews’s letters to malcom.. where lewis speaks of having met a minister who had seen hitler.. lewis says, ‘what’d he look like” .. and the minister says ‘like christ of course’.. tremendously moving..

cs lewis

our secret face is that face..

but to see it you have to stop and really look, look for it w xray eyes

see w heart ness

2 – to see is to love, to love is to see


to love god mean to pay attention, be mindful, be open to the possibility that god is w you in ways that, unless you have your eyes open, you may never glimpse.. draw near to him as best you can


crying at the marvelous thing of whales jumping out of the water in sea world.. we caught a glimpse of the peace of god when man and beast and sun and water and hope were all somehow dancing together in this wonderful dance.. we caught a glimpse of eden of the way things were supposed to be.. so.. loving god means.. consider the lilies of the field.. consider sea world..

oi. not whales in sea world man


the faces we lose track of most easily are the faces of he people whoa re closest to us.. the people we love the most.. . we can’ really see them anymore.. they become just words.. we name them out of existence,..


what would it be like to love each one of these faces.. as cs lewis convo .. what did hitler look like? like christ


i think that is the place (image of god w/in us) from which all true art comes.. art that nourishes the spirits.. illuminates the mind.. deepens the understanding.. deepens our humanity.. puts each of us in touch w that holy part of ourselves.. so that by virtue of this painting/poem/ballet/music.. become finally, truly .. human at last..


art – being human et al

part 2 – listening for god in the stories we tell

3 – the laughing room of maya angelou

he and maya.. so diff.. yet via maya.. same story … of how do you become a human being

eisenstein i know you law

4 – the subterranean grace of god, or why stories matter


on leo bebb – he was marvelously there, all of him, the good w the bad.. he didn’t try to hide it.. he couldn’t hide it.. he just came out w what came into his head, and that somehow encouraged me to do the same..

rumi right & wrong law

and in telling of my variation of the human story, i discovered cracks in the ground of my life thru which i was able to glimpse the subterranean, life giving grace of god

part 3 – telling the truth

5 – a long way to go


moved every year till 14.. my parents were my home.. there were terrible fights.. i remember the anger.. it was a matter of not just hearing two people fight, but i think as a child my terror was that if something blew them up, i would have no place to be. they were home..

i became a listener. i can remember as a child listening for the sounds in the house.. was that an angry sound or was that just a conversational sound.. i was aware of the atmosphere.. always sort of frightened if something that had been planned would not come off because my parents would explode.. so i think a lot of who i am to this day is because of those early days of anxiety and a sense of impending, if not doom, at least uncertainty..


so, my father’s suicide was never talked about, nor did we talk about his life. we didn’t talk about him at all.. not what it had been like to have hime around.. not wha it was like to not have him around.. it was almost as if he had not existed.. the tears came 50 yrs later


mom whisked us off to bermuda.. like never never land.. no cars.. nothing but horses, carriages, bicycles, sunshine.. made it possible even more fully to forget the sadness.. to forget the bomb that had exploded.. the whole notion of beauty that is longing for something, beauty beyond beauty, for whatever beauty there is east of the sun and west of the moon..

still no religion up to this point


saints.. people thru knowing whom we become more alive.. life givers


i think my mother loved me in large part because she needed me so much.. i became her husband, father, confessor, adversary.. all the things my father might have been.. and i lover her and i needed her, but she love me, i think not so much for who i was as for the empty place that i filled in her life

6 – holy moments


(on kids at school having to go to church and take religion class – and how sharp they were and couldn’t get away w nonsense most preachers do.. had to speak truth of own feelings of religion.. it was a wonderful thing.. and how he agreed w them on how bad it was to be required to to.. but) ..i would rather have a shot at those unwilling little targets that to think that nobody would ever have as shot at them. maybe something would come thru, even if they were there against their will and hating it..



turning to my own life as a source of treasure – finding god in my every day happenings.. ‘what was there in it of god?’


she (mother) was a woman crippled by her beauty in away. if your’e beautiful people come to you just because you’re beautiful. you don’t have to be nice/kind/interested/sympathetic.. they come just to bask i the light of your beauty, and she was sort of hurt by that


(on mother’s control over him ie: not wanting him to go see grieving friend because she had made dinner)..and what was so horrifying aobu tit was not just that she said it (he’ll be perfectly alright).. but that i’d already said it to myself.. how absurd.. i distrust my own narration.. that not to go into the world’s pain.. to play it safe, to stay home where the candles are lit and the meal is prepared was to have your life somehow diminished.. to o out into the world, even fi the world scares the hell out of you, and bores you to death, and intimidates you, and confuses you – that is the only life..

7 – better than i used to be, but far from well


how much more help i could have been to my daughter if i had been happy, at peace, whole, a rock, instead of a haggard, anxiety ridden, doom ridden cripple..

the great problem is to try to live in the now.. try to notice there are trees.. try to bless your demons and let them go away.. demons, anxiety, desire, things you never did, let them go and think about things you did do.. try to let go and let god.. that wonderful old slogan.. listen for god, that still small voice.. the right saint coming by at the right time.. to me means that the stillness of god is the stillness he has to preserve, because if he were to speak, it’d blow everything ski high


shakespeare can’t enter hamlet.. so too the way god can deal w the world is elusively, whispers in the wings, subtly, suggestively, never coercing.. just waving like the trees in time.. so i try to listen for that..

8 – the presence of peace


on hunger.. we starve w/o knowing it for each other, i suppose, for silence, for beauty, for holiness, for god.. it’s th kind ofh unger you dont’ recognize until it’s fed, and then you think, my golly, i was hungry for that..

and then homelssness.. are we really at home in any of hour homes..

home less ness et al

to me to be at home somewhere means to be at peace somewhere.. and i have a feeling at some deep level there can really be not real peace for any of us.. no real home for any of us until there’s some measure of real peace for everybody.. until everybody has a home


none of us are free

bachelard oikos law et al

home et al


i think its just built into us.. we re made to love one another, and when we don’t, even if we don’t think about it and try to look the other way.. that other person is a part of us

thurman interconnectedness lawwhen you understand interconnectedness it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying – Robert Thurman 

already on each heart

our peace is threatened by the un peace of the others.. our homes are not havens when there are so many who have no homes.. when we close our eyes to the needs of other people.. *and thus to our own deep needs.. we can never really be at home anywhere

indeed.. *missing pieces, missing piece

has to be all of us.. or it (life/dance/peace) won’t work..


these glimpses we have of joy – that’s part of the news of the day and avery easy part to somehow let slip by

(from his book whistling in the dark about advent): ‘.. in the silence of a midwinter dusk there is afar off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so fain that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself.. you hold your breath to listen.. for a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. you are aware of the beating of your heart.. for all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath’


that seems to me to have something to do w what i’m talking aobut. you’ve goot to be very quiet.. something.. beyond words is seeking to be vborn maybe even in us

quiet enough.. rumi words law.. et al

and that dialogue that i had w him (father.. 50 yrs after dead) has something to do also w this sort of substratum of joy at the heart of things..

w my left hand i drew pics.. and in this awkward childish scrawl.. this dialogue came out between my and my father (asking him if he would have said – i love you – if he wouldn’t have killed himself.. and his father saying ‘no.. nobody could have.. there’s nothing to worry about.. that’s the secret i never know, but i know it now.. i know plenty .. and it’s all good.. everything is going to be all right’)

rheingold (mom) art law


joy is knowing that that is true from your stomach.. knowing that even though you see only thru a glass darkly, even tough lots of things happen – wars and peacemaking, hunger and homelessness – joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are the everlasting arms

there is none like god

no fear