Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Faith is...

When he was 10 years old, Frederich Buechner awoke one morning to the news that his father had locked himself in the garage, turned on the car engine and poisened himself on the fumes of carbon monoxide from the car's exhaust. A week later a note was found scribbled on the final page of Gone With The Wind, the last book his father had been reading before he died. It was addressed to Buechner's mother and read simply, "I adore and love you, and I am no good. Give Freddie my watch. Give Jamie my pearl pin. I give you all my love."

In the wake of Buechner's father's death, and in spite of his grandmother's calls for the family to stay in Pittsburgh and "face reality", Buechner's mother took her children to the island of Bermuda, where they would live for three years, until the outbreak of WWII in 1939. During that time, Buechner learned to love again, learned to listen to the beauty of life around him and in his own words, was reborn. In the following passage, he reflects on his time in Bermuda as a time not just of running away and new beginnings, as many might have considered it to be, but a time of healing and resurrection against all apparent odds.

"In that never never land, that Oz of an island, where we had no roots, I found for the first time a sense of being rooted. In that land where as a foreigner we could never belong, I found a sense of belonging. In that most frivolous place, which travel brochures billed as a vacationer's paradise, I made what was perhaps the least frivolous discovery up till then, which was that Love is not merely a warmth to bask in, like the boatloads of honeymooners who basked on the warmth of Coral Beach, but a grave and fierce yearning and reaching out for paradise itself, a losing and finding of the self in the paradise of another.

This is the reality of those years as I look back at them, and part of their reality to me, is that all the healing and strengthening that came my way, came my way as a gift, and as a gift that implies a giver.

Did it?

There are lots of ways of looking at those years, at any years, of course. The common sense way would be to say simply, "the boy grew up a little." Time heals all wounds and his were no exception. Things started to fall into place for him, that's all. What happened, happened as much by chance as the chance patterns of raindrops on a glass pane, as much by luck as when you draw the lucky number in a raffle. If you want to speak in terms of a gift and a giver, then you should speak of the boy's grandmother, that formidable old lady who seems to have gotten short shrift in this account, but who paid the rent after all and financed the whole operation even though it was against her better judgement to do so.

Or there could be psychological ways of describing those years. You could say that the trauma of the father's suicide was such that the boy, unable to come to terms with his own feelings, repressed them, to the extent that they were bound to cause psychological conflict later on.

You could speak in terms of oedipal conflict and say that part of the reason that the boy seemed to recover from his grief as quickly as he did was that through his father's death he got what, subconsciously of course, he'd always wanted and that was his mother to himself, one consequence of which might well be just such a residue of anxiety and guilt as might in later years lead him to the consolations of religion.

As for the incident of the girl it was clearly a case of pre-adolescent sexuality romanticised to the level of a temporary obsession, or something like that.

I cannot deny such ways of looking at those years, nor do I want to. Many such insights, including many of those, seem very real to me. Yes, time heals all wounds, or at least dresses them, makes them endurable. Yes, at the king's death, the grief of the prince is mitigated by his becoming king. Yes, the great transfiguring power of sex stirs early and deep within everybody. And who can look at his life without seeing the role of blind chance and dumb luck?

But faith, says the author of Hebrews, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. And looking back at those distant years, I choose not to deny either, the presence of an unseen giver and a series of hidden gifts, as not only part of their reality, but the deepest part of all.

Grandma Buechner might have been right about our going to Bermuda. It could have been a terrible mistake. Instead it was a kind of rebirth. My father's death could have closed the door of my heart once and for all against the possibility of ever giving entrance to such love, and therefore to such pain again. Instead it opened some door, in me, to the pain in other people. Not that I did much about the other people, God knows. Nor have ever done much about them since, because I am much too lilly-livered for that. Too weak of faith, too self-absorbed and squeemish. But such pain as I'd know in my own short life opened up, if not my hands to help them, at least my eyes to see that there is pain in every life, that buried grief and hurtful memories are part of us all. And there was so much else to see too... And there is so much to see always. Things too big to take in all at once. Things so small, it's hardly even noticed. And though they may well come by accident, these moments of our seeing, I choose to believe that it is no means by accident when they open our hearts as well as our eyes. I believe it is by grace. I believe these moments themselves are gifts of grace, and that what they open our hearts to is the grace of life itself, a "crazy holy grace" I've called it.

Crazy because whoever could have predicted it? Who could ever foresee the crazy how and when and where of a grace that wells up out of a lostness and pain of the world and our own inner worlds?

And Holy? Because these moments of grace come from farther away than Oz and deeper down than doom. Holy, because they heal and hallow.

"For all our blessings, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, we give thee thanks" says an old prayer. And it's for the all but unknown ones and the more than half-forgotten ones that we do well to look back over the journey of our lives. Because it is their presence that makes the life of each a sacred journey.

We cannot see them clearly for the gifts they are. And we surely cannot see clearly the giver's hand who gives them. But part of the gift is to be able, from time to time, to be "assured and convinced without seeing" as Hebrews says. Because that seems to be of the very style and substance of faith, and what drives us always to seek a farther and deeper seeing still.

There will always be some who say that such faith is only dream. And God knows there are none that can say it more devastatingly than we sometimes say it to ourselves.

But if so, I think it's like the dream that Caliban dreamed. Faith is like a dream in which the clouds open to show such richness ready to fall upon us that when we wake into the reality of nothing more than common sense, we cry to dream again. Because the dreaming seems truer than the waking does. The fullness of reality, not as we have ever fully seen it, to be sure, but as by faith we trust it to be, without seeing.

Faith is both the crying, and the dreaming. Faith is the assurance that the best and holiest dream is true. Faith in something, if only in the proposition that life is better than death, is what makes our journeys through time bearable. When faith ends, the journey ends. It ends either in a death like my father's, or in the living death of those who believe themselves to be without hope."

2 comments:

john Pender said...

hello james

duxflytogether said...

I love this post.