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The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days Paperback – October 11, 1991
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As with much of Buechner's work, there is a movement in this narrative from suffering to grace, a grace that comes in unexpected ways and places. Here it comes through the preacher George Buttrick on a Sunday sermon: Jesus refused Satan's crown, Buttrick said, but "he is crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him. And that inward coronation takes place ... 'among confession, and tears, and great laughter.'" It was when he heard this final statement, Buechner writes, that something turned over for him, and led him to speak to Buttrick and ultimately led him--driven literally by Buttrick--to Union Theological Seminary. Here in this beautiful book this soul-changing journey across Manhattan stands for "the sacred journey" of a life--and of all of our lives. Whether it ends in truth or dream we cannot know, but Buechner sides with King Rinkitink of Oz who says, "Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders." --Doug Thorpe
“A singularly graceful synthesis of memoir and theological explanation...Entrancing.” (Washington Post Book World)
“A candid self-portrait of a devout man.” (Philadelphia Enquirer)
“Tells the story of one person’s journey into faith. In doing so, it nudges its readers to explore [their] own sacred journeys.” (Sojourners)
“Reveals the ultimate goodness of all things...A book filled with wonders.” (Christian Century)
“Journey on, Frederick Buechner. We need your stories to help us make sense of our own.” (New Oxford Review)
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At first, I was a little put off by his over-thought and extreme poetic style of writing. I felt like he was wasting words and beating around the bush until, almost as if he read my thoughts he says "...I started to sense that words not only convey something, but are something; that words have color, depth, texture of their own, and the power to evoke vastly more than they mean; that words can be used not merely to make things clear, make things vivid, make things interesting and whatever else, but to make things happen inside the one who reads them or hears them." (P. 68) and then it sort of clicked for me. This memoir isn't simply a retelling of his major life moments, it is actually an attempt to explain and paint humanity and the vast array of feelings and emotions that entails. After reading that quote, I sort of relaxed and sat back to enjoy the ride and let the book just take me wherever he was going.
One thing that is amazing to me is how optimistic Buechner is, despite the harshness of his life and his emotionally under-developed family. I found this paragraph particularly beautiful: "To do for yourself the best that you have in you to do -To grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst- is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own." (P. 46)
Adding these quotes to my review do not spoil this book, as I could never convey the art that is found here by chopping out little portions, and I could copy down a number of other amazing paragraphs, but I will leave that up to the individual to read- or borrow my underlined copy, but I do want to end with the message that Buechner himself ended with. After becoming a Christian and later deciding to attend seminary he says: "It was a long way to go, and there is no question but that there is a vastly longer way to go still, for all of us, before we are done. And the way we have to go is full of perils, both from without and from within, and who can say for sure what we will find at the end of our journeys, or if, when that time comes, it will prove to be anything more than such a beautiful dream... Faith. Hope. Love-- As words so worn out, but as realities so rich. Our going-away presents from beyond time to carry with us through time to lighten our step as we go. And part at least of the wisdom of the third one [Love] is... `Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.' Above all, never question the truth beyond all understanding and surpassing all other wonders. That in the long run nothing, not even the world, not even ourselves, can separate us forever from that last and deepest love that glimmers in our dusk like a pearl, like a face. " (P. 112) So well said, and more importantly, so true! Buechner basically promises that becoming a Christian is not the end of your journey, nor is it the beginning; it is just part of the whole of what God is doing in your life and in the lives of others. We aren't done ye and this side of heaven, we never will be. Beautiful.
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