I can’t resist the urge to share the following by the novelist and theologian Fredrick Buechner. I wince a bit at Buechner’s use of the male pronoun for the word “preacher,” but grant it to him this time, because Buechner was a preacher, male, and the following is more than a bit autobiographical. It is also universal and speaks eloquently to one aspect of flourishing life we have been attending to the last couple of weeks: that in the last analysis all moments of our lives are key moments, and life itself is grace, that flourishing life is revealed in the day-to-day events—where else would it be revealed?
“Out of the Silence“
an excerpt from
Telling the Truth, The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy, and Fairy Tale,
by Fredrick Buechner
The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a riverboat gambler. The stakes have never been higher. Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this minute he has them in the palm of his hand. The silence in the small church is deafening because everybody is listening to it. Everybody is listening including even himself. Everybody knows the kind of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them?
Let him tell them the truth. Before the Gospel is a word, it is silence. It is the silence of their own lives and of his life. It is life with the sound turned off so that for a moment or two you can experience it not in terms of the words that make it bearable, but for the unutterable mystery that it is. Let him say, “Be silent and know that I am God, says the Lord” (Psalm 46:10). Be silent and know that even by my silence and absence I am known. Be silent and listen to the stones cry out.
The preacher is not brave enough to be literally silent for long. Even if he were brave enough, he would not be silent for long because we are, none of us, very good at silence. It says too much. So let him use words, but, in addition to using them to explain, expound, exhort, let him use them to evoke, to set us dreaming as well as thinking, to use words at their most prophetic and truthful. Let him use the words the prophets used to stir in us memories and longings and intuitions that we starve for without knowing that we starve. Let him use words to hear the questions we ask or ought to ask, to hear the questions we do not have words for asking, to hear the silence from which those questions rise and the silence from which the answers come. Drawing on nothing fancier than the poetry of his own life, let him use words and images that help make the surface of our lives transparent to the truth that lies deep within them, which is the wordless truth of who we are and who God is and the Good News of our meeting.