The Sacred Journey Essay - Critical Context

Frederick Buechner

Critical Context

The Sacred Journey can most appropriately be seen as a chapter in the long story of Christian confessions, those in which the writer shows how God graciously pursued him until he finally heard His calling. The most famous is perhaps Saint Augustine’s Confessiones (397-400; Confessions), but the one that is most comparable to The Sacred Journey in the twentieth century is perhaps C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955). Lewis, too, tells a story of being touched by the mysteries when he was young and then gradually, over many years, being drawn to realize that the One who was calling him was Christ. There are two central parallels between Buechner’s and Lewis’ life stories. Both were highly imaginative young readers who loved fantasy and found themselves living in the wondrous worlds that the fantasy writers created. Buechner’s world was Oz, Lewis’ was the world of the Greek and (especially) the Norse myths. Furthermore, both of them found these fantasy worlds arousing in them a longing for something that they could not define. Lewis calls this longing “joy”; the Germans call it Sehnsucht. For both men, this longing for something that glimmered in their experience drove them to seek until they finally found the Mystery that lies at the heart of reality.

The major difference between Buechner and Lewis is that the latter was a rationalist in addition to being a lover of imaginative fantasy. Lewis believed that a certain amount of God’s truth could be distilled and presented in rational form that believers could rationally accept. Buechner, on the other hand, stresses the mystery of God, never seeking to prove the reality of the divine in the way that Lewis did in his apologetic works.

Finally, The Sacred Journey must be seen in the context of the author’s two other works of autobiography. The earliest is The Alphabet of Grace (1970), in which he describes God’s presence and speaking in a single day of his life. The last of the three is Now and Then (1983), in which he takes up the story from his entrance into the seminary until the time of his writing of the book.