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The Grace of Frederick Buechner

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Frederick Buechner died on Monday at the age of 96. He was a writer, a poet, a theologian, a Presbyterian pastor, and someone that helped people see the presence of God in the most ordinary moments of life. As a preacher, I’ve quoted him more times than I can count, and as a Christian, I’ve often turned to his words in times of joy and in times when I was barely hanging on by a thread. Always, I came away with a renewed sense of being surrounded by grace and being loved by a reality far beyond my ability to comprehend. That sense of awe and wonder helped keep my faith alive and strong.

I was introduced to Buechner’s writings in high school by the man who taught Bible classes and oversaw the Drama department. The book was called “Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC,” and I had never read anything quite like it before. As a closeted gay kid in a deeply conservative Evangelical world, I lived with a persistent fear. Fear of admitting what I knew to be true about myself, fear of being found out, fear of a God that seemed more judgmental than loving. When I first read Buechner’s words, I got a glimpse of a different kind of faith. Of a God who loved in a way that I hadn’t quite heard about before. Of the possibility of a faith that included all of me.

It was a long time before I could fully embrace that understanding of Christian faith and my place in it, but Frederick Buechner helped me get there. Today, I’m giving thanks for his life, his witness, and his writings, which will endure and continue inspire the world.

One of the most persistent themes he talked about was grace. Here’s one of my favorite passages from his work:

Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do.

The grace of God means something like: "Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you."

There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

Thank you, Frederick Buechner, for the gift of your words.


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