"How seemly is a life when told to children thus, with all the grief and ugliness snipped out. I suppose it's how monk Reginald will tell of mine."
This line from late in Godric gets at the main tension in the book. Saint Godric of Finchale is reflecting on his life and telling the story to a monk named Reginald who tends him in his old age (roughly 100 years old). Reginald did, of course, write just the sort of hagiography that Godric is worried about. Because Godric understands that he is indeed a sinner; he is not a good person. Or rather he is a mix, in his words: "Perhaps, since nothing human's not a broth of false and true, it was the two at once."
Like The Moviegoer and Till We Have Faces, this is one of the books I’ve read at least 12 times as an adult. All three were on my annual reread list for years. I rotated them out after 2017, and returned to them over the past couple of weeks to see how they hold up after a nearly 3 year break. All three hold up well, but this is likely my favorite of the group and the most likely to get back into the yearly rotation.
All of Buechner’s work carries that tension between the holy and the profane and between doubt and faith. As much or more than any other believing author I’ve read Buechner treats doubt as the serious subject it is and presents it as inescapable even as he himself is a genuine believer. I don’t share the faith any more, and Walker Percy (who wrote The Moviegoer) he is a writer that worked in the reverse for me than he apparently did for others; he is often cited as a gateway into the faith, but he was one of my gateways out. Still I appreciate that a believer is so honest about the consistent presence of doubt. I also really appreciate his insistence that people are at least as bad as they are holy. That “snarl of false and true” is the human condition, which I think holds whether God exists or not.
But all of those themes alone would not make me love the book. It is Godric’s voice. Buechner’s prose is never less than elegant in the dozen or so books I’ve read by him. Always funny. And Godric’s voice is the best expression of both his eloquence and his humor. And it is the best vehicle for his thematic concerns as well. It’s compelling all the way through. It’s moving without schmaltz. It earned the tears that came up on the last page as they did all previous eleven times. Another of the books that I thought of as automatically in when I conceived this blog as building a personal canon.
Rereads and Everything Else 2020 26/35
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