What does it mean to be holy? Godric considers this question as it breathes new life into many familiar Christian tropes. The theme of life as a spiritual journey is introduced early in the novel when a priest tells Godric, “This life of ours is like a street that passes many doors. . . . Every day’s a door and every night.” Eventually, he tells Godric, “you’ll reach the holy door itself,” which is not so much the door to eternity as it is the door to communion with God in this world. Holiness is seen not in keeping oneself unspotted from the world but in embracing God’s presence in the world and responding to his calling. Godric’s subsequent experiences suggest that he is continually in the process of finding God, even when he does not realize it. In many of his works, Frederick Buechner indicates that this communion is what all people hunger for, even when trying to satisfy that desire with other pleasure, and Buechner’s view of life, according to one critic, is that “every part [of life] is sacred and may become in any moment and in unexpected ways a window through which we see God. . . .”
Godric’s mighty struggles with sin recall Saint Augustine’s battles in his Confessiones (397-400; Confessions, 1620). Wracked by grief for his sins, the aged Godric wears an iron vest and submerges himself in freezing water to mortify his flesh. Yet Godric’s life is far from misery, as he shows in rejecting Elric’s view that good in this world is illusory. Though he revolts when Reginald declares him a saint, Godric maintains an ironic, self-deprecating sense of humor, amazed and amused by God’s insistence on making him an agent of grace to others. Godric becomes a minister of reconciliation in spite of himself, recognizing that others yearn for the same spiritual blessing that he seeks. This amazement—that God would use deeply flawed, sinful human beings to accomplish his will, is addressed in an interview printed in The Door Interviews (1989), edited by Mike Yaconelli, in which Buechner speaks of “the subterranean presence of grace in the world that haunts me. . . . And the mystery of the mysteries at the bottom of the well . . . is the mystery of God, of Christ” in the world.