Remembering Frederick Buechner, an American C.S. Lewis

Was Frederick Buechner a novelist? A hagiographer? An evangelist? A preacher? A poet? A theologian? After he died on Aug. 15 on the age of 96, Buechner was hailed as all of those and extra—and certainly, his debut novel in 1950 and its many successors established him as a distinguished American novelist greater than seven many years in the past. However for a lot of followers of his extra private nonfiction works, Buechner was the American C.S. Lewis, a author whose biggest reward was in speaking the person’s seek for God.

In an obituary for Buechner within the Washington Publish, America editor at giant James Martin, S.J., mentioned that Buechner’s autobiographical works “can take their place amongst different nice non secular memoirs,” together with Lewis’s Shocked by Pleasure, Dorothy Day’s The Lengthy Loneliness and Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain.

Frederick Buechner: “If we weren’t blind as bats, we’d see that life itself is sacramental.”

A Presbyterian minister who by no means labored as a pastor (and certainly, mentioned late in life that he was not a lot of a churchgoer), Buechner revealed 39 books over the course of his life, together with novels, memoirs, theological treatises, poetry and extra. Whereas not all his work dealt explicitly with faith, a significant theme in his writing was that of the seeker searching for the divine—and vice versa. In his 1993 ebook Wishful Pondering: A Seeker’s ABC, Buechner famous that each one Christian denominations had sacraments, moments the place “you’re apt to catch a glimpse of the virtually insufferable preciousness and thriller of life.”

However a really sacramental creativeness, he wrote, discovered the divine in a thousand different locations. “Evidently, church isn’t the one place the place the holy occurs. Sacramental moments can happen at any second, at anywhere, and to anyone,” he wrote. “Watching one thing get born. Making love. A stroll on the seashore. Any individual coming to see you while you’re sick. A meal with individuals you like. Trying right into a stranger’s eyes and discovering out they don’t seem to be a stranger’s.”

“If we weren’t blind as bats, we’d see that life itself is sacramental.”

Buechner bought his begin as a novelist remarkably early, and America was fast to acknowledge him as a budding expertise on the literary scene—even his debut novel, A Lengthy Day’s Dying (it was his senior thesis from Princeton), was reviewed within the journal by Harold Gardiner, S.J., America’s literary editor and a distinguished determine in Catholic publishing on the time. Sadly for Buechner, Gardiner didn’t look after his early efforts, and wielded a savage crucial pen. “Sophisticates amongst each readers and critics will flip up the nostril on the easy story and kow-tow to the pretentiousness of A Lengthy Day’s Dying,” Gardiner wrote in his 1950 America evaluation of the ebook. “However I’m satisfied that it’s Mr. Buechner and his gushing critics who’re the little boys misplaced. If you happen to don’t imagine me, undergo the lengthy day’s dying entailed in studying the ‘literary masterpiece.’” Ouch!

“Buechner’s prose is supple, his thoughts fertile and his approach of taking a look at non secular and non secular ideas all the time inviting and infrequently very stunning.”

Buechner was in good firm, at the least; Gardiner was a person of sturdy opinions and was not afraid to call his literary preferences (Amongst others, he disliked John Steinbeck for his “frequent coarseness” and “sermonizing tone”). And if nothing else, he stored studying and reviewing Buechner. Whereas acknowledging that the creator “does have a really feel for phrases” in his 1952 America evaluation of The Season’s Distinction, Gardiner complained of a “fashion that isn’t solely mannered, it’s simpering.” By 1958 and Buechner’s third novel, The Return of Ansel Gibbs, he toned down the harrumphing a bit. “Although the creator’s fashion remains to be somewhat treasured, it has taken on an edge that was lacking thus far,” he conceded.

Different America reviewers had been kinder in later years. In 1981, John R. Might reviewed Godric, Buechner’s tenth novel and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize that yr. Buechner had taken the collected legends across the Twelfth-century saint and “given it the flesh of his personal fictional fact,” wrote Might, “and that fact appears to relaxation within the thriller of God’s reign and of the best way people acknowledge it of their lives.” Buechner’s non secular creativeness, he argued, had helped create a exceptional ebook: “What is critical right here, however hardly new, is the unmistakable proof of fiction’s energy as a medium of spiritual which means.” Certainly, various readers famous the similarities between the corrupt and but someway holy minister of 4 of Buechner’s novels, Leo Bebb, and the “whiskey priest” of Graham Greene’s The Energy and the Glory.

In newer years, Father Martin praised Buechner’s novels however confessed a desire for his nonfiction works. “Two of my favourite non secular memoirs are the magnificent works The Sacred Journey and Telling Secrets and techniques,” he wrote in America in 2013. “Buechner’s prose is supple, his thoughts fertile and his approach of taking a look at non secular and non secular ideas all the time inviting and infrequently very stunning.” Martin quoted from a profile of Buechner by America deputy editor in chief (then digital editor) Timothy Reidy within the Princeton Alumni Weekly, which will be discovered right here:

For Buechner, the method of writing about his life is sacred: ‘My story is essential not as a result of it’s mine, God is aware of, however as a result of if I inform it something like proper, the probabilities are you’ll acknowledge that in some ways it is usually yours. … It’s exactly via these tales in all their particularity, as I’ve lengthy believed and infrequently mentioned, that God makes himself identified to every of us extra powerfully and personally.’

In his profile of Buechner, Reidy famous that the creator wore a hoop inscribed with the Latin phrase “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.” A glance again into America’s archives exhibits a number of the significance of that maxim in Buechner’s personal non secular journey. In 1995 and once more in 1997, Martin, then an affiliate editor of America, had requested a lot of luminaries (Catholic and never) to reply a deceptively easy query: “How can I discover God?” The responses, gathered collectively into two articles, are diversified and effectively price studying, together with Buechner’s contribution to the 1997 article. Right here is his brief submission:

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit are the phrases C. G. Jung had chiseled into his stone lintel in Switzerland, which imply, freely translated, that you’ll ultimately discover God whether or not you need to or not. If you wish to (even for those who don’t occur to imagine he exists), all you need to do is use some quiet place, be quiet inside your self, and ask Him to allow you to discover Him (or Him you). So far as I do know, it’s a prayer that’s all the time answered.

For a lot of followers of his extra private nonfiction works, Buechner was the American C.S. Lewis, a author whose biggest reward was in speaking the person’s seek for God.


Our poetry choice for this week is “Afterlife” by Diana Marie Delgado. Readers can view all of America’s revealed poems right here.

On this area each week, America options evaluations of and literary commentary on one specific author or group of writers (each new and outdated; our archives span greater than a century), in addition to poetry and different choices from America Media. We hope this may give us an opportunity to offer you extra in-depth protection of our literary choices. It additionally permits us to alert digital subscribers to a few of our on-line content material that doesn’t make it into our newsletters.

Different Catholic Ebook Membership columns:

Theophilus Lewis introduced the Harlem Renaissance to the pages of America

William Lynch, the best American Jesuit you’ve in all probability by no means heard of

Parish priest, sociologist, novelist: The various imaginations of Father Andrew Greeley

Leonard Feeney, America’s solely excommunicated literary editor (up to now)

Joan Didion: A chronicler of recent life’s horrors and consolations

Completely happy studying!

James T. Keane