Thursday, October 23, 2008

Frederick Buechner and the Treasure Hunt

I am delighted that a new, crisp copy of Frederick Buechner's latest memoir project, The Yellow Leaves, arrived from today. I've read more than 10 of Buechner's books, and his voice and prose style have had a tremendous impact on my own writing. I am looking forward to curling up in my favorite reading spot later tonight and devouring this small but potent literary treat.

Buechner is an interesting character. He was a novelist who decided in his late 20s (like me) to go to seminary, and eventually became an ordained Presbyterian minister. Rather than going into professional church work he taught for nearly a decade, and then embraced full-time writing. The result has been dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, threaded together by an authentic dive into the human condition and God's mysterious interaction with frail beings. He is careful not to disguise his books as sermons, which Buechner himself notes in one volume would make for neither good writing nor good preaching. Many of his books are haunted by his search for connection to a father who committed suicide when Buechner was 10.

A very accessible introduction to Buechner is his daily devotional Listening to Your Life, which includes excerpts from most of his books. Reading just a fragment of one of his works certainly whets the appetite for more.

A couple of years ago, when I was writing the first draft of my spiritual memoir Chased by the Wind, I wrote to Buechner basically seeking encouragement while expressing appreciation for his body of work. A couple of months later I receive a short, handwritten note, advising me to push against any voices of discouragement and keep digging. "You might find real treasure," he advised me.

So I keep digging, as I write books, blogs, articles. As I engage in deep conversations. As I read works by thoughtful souls such as Buechner. I find that I am not alone in my quest for authenticity, especially when I read works by writers who seem like old friends.


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