Monday, December 24, 2012

Looking for the divine in the routine

The Alphabet of GraceThe Alphabet of Grace by Frederick Buechner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has a poetic, meandering quality that doesn't really appeal to me, though at points it felt good. Buechner has a way with words that is wonderful at some points and distracting at others (acknowledging, of course, that his way with words, even at his worst, will probably always trump my way with words).

Essentially, Buechner walks through one particular day of his life (the date is not specified), and draws lessons from it and points out grace in it. Is one's life charged with meaning? Though the unglamorous routine of it would indicate no, the author, looking under the surface, comes to a positive conclusion. "'The dry clack-clack of the world's tongue at the approach of the approach of splendor.' And just this is the substance of what I want to talk about: the clack-clack of my life. The occasional, obscure glimmering through of grace. The muffled presence of the holy. The images, always broken, partial, ambiguous, of Christ" (7-8).

I enjoyed the following excerpts:

I am a part-time novelist who happens also be a part-time Christian because part of the time seems to be the most I can manage to live out my faith: Christian part of the time when certain things seem real and important to me and the rest of the time not Christian in any sense that I can believe matters much to Christ or anybody else. Any Christian who is not a hero, Leon Bloy wrote, is a pig, which is a harder way of saying the same thing. (vii)

Introspection in the long run doesn’t get you very far because every time you draw back to look at yourself, you are seeing everything except for the part that drew back, and when you draw back to look at the part that drew back to look at yourself, you see again everything except for what you are really looking for. And so on. Since the possibilities for drawing back seem to be infinite, you are, in your quest to see yourself whole, doomed always to see infinitely less than what there will always remain to see. Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are. (24-25, the last sentence a reference to Oblonsky in Anna Karenin)

When Mark Twain’s second child, Susy, died, he said that her death was like a man’s house burning down—it would take years and years to discover all that he had lost in the fire. (63)

I hear you are entering the ministry … Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised? (109)

I pick the children up at the bottom of the mountain where the orange bus lets them off in the wind.... Not for keeps, to be sure, but at least for the time being, the world has given them back again, and whatever the world chooses to do later on, it can never so much as lay a hand on the having-beenness of this time. The past is inviolate. We are none of us safe, but everything that has happened is safe. (110)

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