Our Hunger by Frederick Buechner

Today’s quote comes from Frederick Buechner via Voice of the Day from the “God’s Politics” blog.

We hunger to be known and understood. We hunger to be loved. We hunger to be at peace inside our own skins. We hunger not just to be fed these things but, often without realizing it, we hunger to feed others these things because they too are starving for them. We hunger not just to be loved but to love, not just to be forgiven but to forgive, not just to be known and understood for all the good times and bad times that for better for worse have made us who we are, but to know and understand each other to the same point of seeing that, in the last analysis, we all have the same good times, the same bad times, and that for that very reason there is no such thing in all the world as anyone who is really a stranger.

– Frederick Buechner
from Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons
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Listening

Yesterday I posted a blog entry that featured a quote from Frederick Buechner, and at the risk of having too much Buechner in too short a time (is that possible?), I open this post with another quote from him.

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” – Frederick Buechner

I often use the quote above in the signature line of my emails.  It encapsulates how I would like to approach living.  I truly believe that, as the cliche states, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and that, as Buechner says elsewhere, if we are ever going to experience God or hear God speak, it will be in our own lives.  I have found this to be true in my own life, or at least I did when I was younger.

When I was young, the presence of God was often a palpable thing.  I knew God was real because I felt him in my life, in my body even.  God was with me, and if I felt particularly down or depressed, his presence was just a prayer away.  From the time my Dad became a Christian (when I was in the first grade or so) throughout High School and beyond, the Church was my life.  It was everything, and maybe because of that, knowing and feeling God in my life seemed easy.  Between worship services and Bible studies and prayer meetings, I was in church at least 10-12 hours a week.  And I prayed, not some brief bedtime bidding, but for hours at a time . . . weeping and laughing, pleading and thanking, praising and lamenting.  Perhaps I see all of this through the misty vision of nostalgia, and everything I remember should be taken with a grain of salt, but doubt was virtually non-existent.  And I could not have imagined not being in the presence of God.  I believed that, and lived as though, God’s Spirit was always with me.  This is what I remember.

Naturally, part of this probably had to do with the faith that children and youth often have – a faith that is untried and untested, a faith that has not seen much sorrow or pain, a faith, in other words, that has not lived enough life.  I am sure that this is true, at least for me.  And though any pain or suffering I may have experienced in my 52 years is nothing compared to what many have endured, I have experienced more than a few losses.  I saw my dad leave the ministry he had worked so hard to build up because of an extra-marital affair, and with this my own faith was rocked.  I have lost all of my grandparents to death, including my beloved Ma Nellie, who was like a second mother to me.  My own marriage collapsed and, even after 13 years, I feel that loss intensely.  And, as a pastor, I have become intimately acquainted with death and loss and suffering and how these things affect people I love and serve.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I have also had many blessings in my life.  I have a beautiful 21 year old daughter who loves her father.  I have over 10 years of quality higher education and the three degrees earned during that time.  I have been privileged to meet some amazing and wonderful people in the churches I have served these past 28 years, and my life has been blessed by several mentors along the way who helped me and kept me pointed in the right direction.  I am blessed far beyond what I could ever deserve.

And yet, I long for more: for a deeper connection with people, stronger friendships and relationships with others, and a deeper sense of God’s presence in my life.  So I am trying to listen, again.  I want to reconnect with people, with life, and I want to know God’s presence and Spirit as fully as I did when I was younger.

Not long ago I stumbled upon a blog that looks promising to me.  It’s called “A Place for the God Hungry.”  In one of its posts the author writes about Frederick Buechner, and quotes from his latest book, The Yellow Leaves, which is a collection of essays, short stories, and poems.  In the introduction, Buechner says,

“I can still write sentences and paragraphs, but for some five or six years now I haven’t been able to write books.   Maybe after more than thirty of them the well has at last run dry.  Maybe, age eighty, I no longer have the right kind of energy.  Maybe the time has come to simply stop.  Whatever the reason, at least for the moment, the sweet birds no longer sing.” (p. ix)

I was greatly saddened when I read these words.  Buechner has been one of my mentors (though I have never met him or even spoken with him) through his writing, and so I grieved the loss that he must feel.  But, in addition, I recognized something of myself in his words, and after further contemplation, I came to the conclusion that I do not want the sweet birds to stop their singing in my life.  And I think the best way, perhaps the only way,  to prevent this from happening is to do what I mentioned above:  to listen . . . and to try my best to keep the connections with people, life and God alive within my heart.

 

Remember

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.”
— Frederick Buechner (A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces)