These last couple of weeks, my morning reading has been a slow (mostly re-)read of Frederick Buechner’s The Remarkable Ordinary. It was one of the last two books of Buechner’s to be published before his death last August. I started the book back in 2017 when it was published, but I didn’t make it past the first few pieces. Buechner has been a part of my story since college, when I found him through the liner notes of a Wes King album, Since then, I’ve read most of his sermons but not enough of his fiction. The Remarkable Ordinary, which I’m about to finish, includes some talks that he gave at Laity Lodge (one of my favorite places ever), back in 1990 (long before I had heard of either person or place).
The collection has a lot to say about faith, but mostly through the arts. He says a good bit about his own life story, which always feels fresh no matter many times you have read similar pieces of his. “Stop, Look, and Listen for God” is the title of the first part of the collection. It’s a good summation of his approach to faith, too. He wrote about attention long before it became an early 21st century buzzword. And he often and effortlessly brings what he thinks of art or his own life back to the presence of God, to the God revealed in Scripture, and to Jesus. And then, in the middle of it all, he reminds us:
Love each other knowing that you are loved.
Such a simple statement. It’s a reworking of a key New Testament teaching that I’d not really heard that way (or that well) before.
Buechner is definitely a product of his time (or times, as the case may be). The third part of the book is the most obviously biographical. And he starts it with the assertion that “the twentieth century comprised three worlds”: pre-World War II, the world of the war, and the post-World War II world (which he still lived in when he penned the piece). He brings those different eras to life well without indulging in nostalgia. And he practices what he preaches: listening to God in the story of his life.
I really thought there’d be more quotes from the book in this piece, but they just didn’t materialize. There are a number of lines that I marked in the book, but they make the most and best sense in the context of all the other words and phrases on the page.
Revisiting Buechner these last couple of weeks has been nice. The times they are a-changing, with things happening both at Home and in the Neighborhood. It is good to be reminded that God is at work around us, and more often than not in many less-obvious ways. Still in the obvious, of course, but often the obvious gets lost in the mix. Early in the book, Buechner writes about the reading of books:
You can escape the little world that’s inside your skin and live inside the world the writer produces for you.
That’s especially true for the world that Buechner wrote with his life. It has so many little tributaries, too, with people like Lewis and Chesterton and other writers he has either led me to or helped me enjoy. It’s good to be reminded, every day really, of the remarkable ordinary of our lives.