Saturday, January 26, 2008
I do not remember exactly when I first heard of Frederick Buechner. Somewhere along the line I picked up one of his books and before long he had become my favorite writer. How do I know that he is my favorite writer? I own 21 of his books, that’s how!
Buechner is a Presbyterian minister who writes sermons, memoirs, stories, essays, and novels. His works have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and he has been honored by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. While I enjoy his fiction and learn much from his essays and am moved by his sermons, it is his autobiographical works that have made the greatest impression on me. Buechner produced a trilogy of such works that are entitled The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days, Now & Then: A Memoir of Vocation, and Telling Secrets. In those works Buechner paints wonderful pictures of the way in which the grace of God weaves its way through a human life.
To this day, I cry when I re-read one of those books. Being who I am, how can I not cry when I read words like these?
To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world’s sake—even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death—that little by little we start to come alive. It was not a conclusion that I came to in time. It was a conclusion from beyond time that came to me. God knows I have never been any good at following the road it pointed me to, but at least, by grace, I glimpsed the road and saw that it is the only one worth traveling. (The Sacred Journey, p. 107)
I can only wipe my eyes and say “Amen.”
Dr. Howard Giddens has for over thirty years now been my “face to face” and “deeply involved in my life” mentor. For some dozen years now Frederick Buechner has been my literary and in some ways my spiritual and vocational mentor. But I have never met him.
I missed one chance. A few years ago Buechner was scheduled to speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I signed up to go and in fact went. I had not been at The Hill long and I didn’t want to miss a Sunday, so I arranged for a Saturday evening flight home, figuring that since the conference lasted several days and ended on a Saturday night, what were the odds that he would be the very last speaker? They were pretty good, as it turned out, and I didn’t get to hear him. (I did get to hear Joyce Carol Oates, which was a treat in itself.)
Lord willing, though, I am about to meet Frederick Buechner.
King College in Bristol, Tennessee has established the Frederick Buechner Institute. The Institute “is devoted to exploring the intersections and collisions of faith and culture that define our times.” The inauguration of the Institute will occur on Monday, January 28. Buechner will be speaking at the event. Debra and I will be attending the inauguration. I am really looking forward to it.
We all need mentors. We all need people who offer us some guidance along the way as we try to fulfill our calling. I am grateful for this blessed opportunity to meet one of mine.