Frederick Buechner died yesterday. I haven’t had the chance to read many of his works yet, but I discovered him in a class where we read “Faith and Fiction,” where I discovered this line:
The danger, I suppose, is that you start out with the idea that sainthood is something people achieve, that you get to be holy more or less the way you get to be an Eagle Scout… The truth, of course, is that holiness is not a human quality like virtue. If there is such a thing at all, holiness is Godness and as such is not something people do but something God does in them if there is such a thing as God. It is something God seems esepcialyl apot to do in people who are not virtuous at all, at least not to start with.The Clown in the Belfry, pg. 18
Sainthood as something God does to us… perhaps in spite of our failings? The idea changed a lot about how I saw religious fiction. For one thing, it opened up new possibilities for flawed characters, like William Peter Blatty’s Father Merrin who realizes he needs more than his own strength to love people the way God loves. It also made it easier to understand heroes who become more than their failures (an idea I explored in an article about Gawain and the Green Knight).
A year or so after that class, I got to review Jeffrey Munroe’s study/biography of Buechner, gaining more insights into his writing and spiritual journey. I’m not sure the resulting review was my best (it hasn’t done as well as the one about Christopher Hitchens), but it’s a review that I’m very proud of.
Two years later, I picked up Dale Brown’s Book of Buechner, spent several days reading and re-reading about Buechner’s life, and wrote an introductory article on him for Christianity.com. I hope it communicates how much I’ve enjoyed the fraction I’ve read of his work, and encourages more people to explore his work.
Rest in Peace Frederick Buechner. You will be missed.
Cover Image: Wikimedia Commons