(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Buechner’s central thesis in The Sacred Journey is that God speaks to individuals in their daily lives, through the events that strike home to them. He stresses that the meaning of those events is often mysterious, ambiguous, cryptic, when first they appear. Indeed, in his own life the steps on his sacred journey were usually unrecognized as such when they happened. Only later, upon reflection, seeing where he had finally arrived, did he understand that many small events were actually divinely guided turnings on the road that led finally to service to Christ. He wrote this book to present some of those events in his own life, hoping that the theological truth he had discovered would shine through to others. He hoped that when others saw how small events could have eternal importance, they would learn to look at their own lives in the same light. Therefore, the most appropriate way to suggest something of the substance of the book is to recount a few of the more striking incidents that the author presents.

During his first decade of life, the period called “Once Below a Time,” Buechner was sick for almost a year. At that time, he became an avid reader of the Oz books, especially loving one of the characters, King Rinkitink. This king was plump and somewhat foolish, given to bursting into tears, but had remarkable strength, resilience, and courage. Though he was vulnerable and silly in many ways, he was strong and wise in others, so that he always managed to overcome his troubles, riding away on the back of his goat, Bilbil. The greatest of the services Rinkitink offered to the young invalid Buechner was through advice he received from a magic white pearl. The pearl told the king that the world is filled with wonders, and Buechner found that to be great wisdom which remained with him throughout his life. In addition, the way Rinkitink succeeded in life prepared the young Buechner for the later wisdom of Saint Paul, who said that God chose those who are foolish, weak, and low as the agents by whom to redeem the world.

When his father committed suicide, Buechner’s childhood ended. With his mother and his brother, the ten-year-old boy left the United States to live in Bermuda. That beautiful island became his own Land of Oz. It was a place where the terrible past could be forgotten and a new life begun. The most memorable of the experiences the young boy had there took place just before he left, at the age of twelve. As he sat with a girl his own age on a wall beside the harbor, their bare knees happened to touch. The effect was to fill him with panic, anguish, and longing for he knew not what. Into his whole being swept a hungering love for the beauty of the universe, which he later came to realize was a hunger for Beauty itself, which lies at the heart of and behind the universe. For the first time in his life he was a giver of love, not simply a receiver, which made him reach out for Paradise, longing to find an ineffable something that he could not identify. Recognizing that he had been given a gift in this overwhelming longing, he wondered if there was a Giver behind it.

Such memorable moments became for Buechner the promptings of a crazy, holy grace. It is crazy because it is totally unexpected: Out of the longing and pain and joy of daily life, something arises that touches and moves and exalts one. It is holy because it comes from farther away than Oz and produces healing. Thus, these moments are stages on the sacred journey, one that is a search for whatever lies deeper than one can...

(The entire section is 1446 words.)