Frederick Buechner is the father of today’s spiritual memoir movement, and this is the book that started the trend. Instead of writing a traditional memoir that traced his rise as a writer, Buechner dove into his inner life and wrote about the events that led to his unlikely embrace of Christianity at age 27. Buechner’s conviction is that God speaks directly into our personal lives, and this memoir is the first in a series where Buechner demonstrates how listening to your life reveals the “subterranean presence of grace” in each of our sacred journeys.
Buechner creates an epic story from the few facts known about an obscure 12th-century saint, a pirate and adventurer who spent the second half of his life in seclusion as a holy hermit. Saint Godric is tortured by his sins, and the novel’s plot is driven by the question, “What sort of sin would send someone into severe asceticism for 50 years?” Buechner’s story reveals a life plagued by “post-conversion” sin, making Godric’s ancient struggles timeless and real. Rich and nuanced, Godric was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1981.
Originally delivered in 1976 as part of Yale Divinity School’s Lyman Beecher Lectures on preaching, this book is a tour de force. Although the gospel is bad news before it is good news, most preachers give in to temptation and skip quickly to the good. Woe to those not brave enough to tell the dark truths, including our experience of the absence of God. In the end, though, the gospel is indeed great news—a laugh-out-loud comedy and, more than that, a happily-ever-after fairy tale full of magic and mystery too good not to be true.
Buechner’s third venture into memoir is his most powerful. The secrets he tells are stories surrounding his father’s suicide (when Buechner was just ten) and the dysfunction in his family of origin that carried into his new family, culminating in a daughter’s anorexia. As Buechner tells his secrets, he points out that what we desire most—to be fully known—is also what we fear most. To tell the truth of our lives is sacred, holy work, and along the way we ultimately discover that the story of one of us is the story of us all.
One of a series of lexical books, Peculiar Treasures contains sketches of biblical characters from Aaron to Zaccheus. As Buechner notes in the introduction, he set out to shake the dust off a few time-worn figures and found, instead, that “[t]hey were the ones who shook the dust off me.” The saints and scoundrels occupying the pages of the Bible are as gripping as ever, and reading Buechner’s witty and moving descriptions of them sends us back to the book that we love with renewed energy and excitement.
Jeffrey Munroe is the executive vice president of Western Theological Seminary and the author of Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher (InterVarsity Press).