In his book The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections, Frederick Buechner includes a letter he wrote for the birth of his grandson, to be read on his twenty-first birthday. Since today, March 8th, is the day I add another candle to the coconut birthday cake, the start of a new year in my life, I pulled Buechner’s book off my bookshelf to re-read his letter. The summation of his words of wisdom is one of the better in-a-nutshell descriptions I’ve heard about the human story.
“Our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.”
In an essay further into the book, “The Journey Toward Wholeness,” Buechner writes, “Like the majority of humankind I don’t know much about wholeness at first hand… I like to believe that in a disorganized way it is what I am journeying toward, but the most I have to show for my pains is an occasional glimpse of it in certain people…” He goes on to describe the ways we allow ourselves to fragmentize the world we see around us, the ways we become nothing more than reactors. “Sinners are made in the image of God no less than saints,” he writes, and it is a hope of mine that in this next year I will grow closer to seeing the world that way, that somehow, with God’s help, “compassionate love [will] begin to change from a moral exercise into a joyous, spontaneous, self-forgetting response to the most real aspect of all reality.” That I will, in fits and starts, little by little, become whole.
“The world floods in on all us us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in a loving God, and it can decimate our faith. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. When the world strikes out at us, we strike back, and when one way or another the world blesses us, our spirits soar. I know this to be true of no one as well as I know it to be true of myself. I know just how the weather can affect my whole state of mind for good or ill, how just getting stuck in a traffic jam can ruin an afternoon that in every other way is so beautiful that it dazzles the heart. We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors. The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us into fragments. Instead of being whole, most of the time we are in pieces, and we see the world in pieces, full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.”
“Sinners are made in the image of God no less than saints. Even a sparrow fallen dead by the roadside is transparent to holiness. To be whole, I believe, is to see the world like that. To see the world like that, as Jesus saw it, is to be whole. And sometimes I believe that even people like you and me see it like that. Sometimes even in the midst of our confused and broken relationships with ourselves, with each other, with God, we catch glimpses of that holiness and wholeness which, no matter how buried and unrecognized, are still part of who we are.”
“It is our business, as we journey, to keep our hearts open to the bright-winged presence of the Holy Ghost within us and the Kingdom of God among us until little by little compassionate love begins to change from a moral exercise, from a matter of gritting our teeth and doing our good deed for the day, into a joyous, spontaneous, self-forgetting response to the most real aspect of all reality, which is that the world is holy because God made it and so is every one of us as well. To live as though that reality does not exist is to be a stranger in a world of strangers. To live out of and toward that reality is little by little to become whole.”