Spiritual Mentors: Frederick Buechner

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a writer who changed the way I view God and grace.

Frederick Buechner

His Influence: Have you ever had a moment in your life of simple awareness and peace that you didn’t exactly know where it came from? You are just going about your business, in your normal everyday routine, and something catches your eye or a realization of gratitude and thankfulness  comes to mind. Maybe, these moments come from a look on another person’s face, or from a word that seems to jump off a page at you, or there is a particular aspect of nature that you never really paid attention to in the past. Frederick Buechner calls these moments, acts of grace, and has spent his life searching for these moments, celebrating these moments, and encouraging his readers to “listen to their lives” for drops of grace that can be traced back to God himself.

By the time he was 25 years old, Buechner had already written a best selling novel but when his second novel bombed and his New York City existence was marked with increasing writer’s block, he was left mostly frustrated and depressed. Out of curiosity and some driving force, Buechner began attending church at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, which was led by the famed preacher George Buttrick. During one sermon, Buechner was so moved he began to sob and knew his life no longer belonged to him but was now in the hands of a God who he had barely paid attention to in the past. Buechner would go on to become an ordained Presbyterian minister but he never held a church position because he would continue writing. His books were not written for the Christian sub-culture, with its often bad taste and melodramatic narratives. They were written for anyone who had struggled with doubt and who had ever been overwhelmed by a world that didn’t always make sense.

Because Buechner came to faith so unexpectedly, his writings have been absent of church speak and clichés. The characters in his fiction always have a heavy dose of sin even though they are capable of such life and holiness. In other words, Buechner is describing the life we live – full of God one moment but trending towards failure the next. Yet, God is always present, always a mystery in the most wonderful and beautiful way possible. Buechner’s God is not just one to follow and praise but one to fall in love with.

What I have learned from Buechner. On the surface, just reading Buechner books put me in a good mood in the same way that a certain song might put me in a good mood. No other author has that kind of influence on me. But deeper than this, Buechner description of God and his love for Jesus absolutely inspires me. If I have ever written anything of quality it has usually been after reading Buechner’s prose. I have walked out of a room after reading Buechner and my world has changed. He has encouraged me to” listen to my life and see if for the fathomless mystery that it is”. He has reminded me that all moments are key moments and that all of life is grace.  The very image of the sky seems different now that I am viewing it through Buechner’s lenses. Buechner celebrates life and more importantly the giver of life.

What Frederick Buechner can teach you: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Buechner recommendations: If you want to experience Frederick Buechner for yourself, check out these recommendations.

The Sacred Journey/ Now and Then/ Telling Secrets – These are Buechner’s memoirs and the best way to understand who he is and why he writes the way he does.

Brendan – Historical fiction about a seafaring saint doesn’t sound that exciting but this is a joy to read.

Peculiar Treasures – A kind of Biblical Who’s Who done in complete Buechner style.

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Listen To Your Life

Public domain image from Library of Congress h...

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“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Frederick BuechnerNow and Then

As a lifelong Baptist, I am supposed to be wary of spiritual experiences. I am supposed to not be able to trust them as legitimate touches from the one true God. In others, I am supposed to be skeptical if they speak about how God is moving them. I am supposed to think that what they are feeling has more to do with them, and their hangups and need for attention, then it does God’s handiwork. I am supposed to only experience God through scripture reading, sermons, and prayer.  But then I read Buechner, whose writings are filled with admonitions to ‘listen to your life’ and I remember Jesus’ words that he will be with me always, ‘even to the ends of the earth’ and I begin to listen, to ‘touch, taste, and smell  my way to the holy and hidden heart of it.’ What I discover is that I can see God in the abandonment in which my daughter plays soccer, in the twilight breeze that is so welcomed, in the words of a friend who needs help, in the friendship of a spouse, and in words on a page. I have come realize that there is a world touched by God and a holy theater that I largely ignore. I want to change that.

Today, I will be listening to my life and chronicling those holy moments on Twitter. I will be looking out for God and his handiwork throughout my day. If you would like to follow along, then follow me @christlifehack on Twitter.