THE SACRED JOURNEY by Frederick Buechner


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Fragments of an autobiography, a little too misty and mystical, but effectively done. Buechner, a novelist and Presbyterian minister now 55, reminisces about his youth, noting how apparently random moments--his father's suicide, glimpses of natural beauty in unspoiled Bermuda before World War II, the cowardly refusal to comfort a grieving friend, first inarticulate erotic stirrings, etc.--fall into a divinely plotted pattern, a sacred journey leading to God. This notion of life as a microcosmic sliver of salvation history is at least as old as St. Augustine and open to all sorts of objections, which Buechner is perfectly familiar with. He knows, for example, that the sweet sense of consolation he felt after his father's death was at least partly Oedipal satisfaction that the old man was out of the way and now he could have his mother all to himself. He knows that much of what happened to him (or happens to anyone)--such as the time he suddenly went to pieces in boot camp, and got discharged from the wartime Army--could simply be ascribed to psychic pressures or blind chance or both. But that, he insists, doesn't rule out grace. And though he inevitably reads his life backwards from the standpoint of his ordination (he is, he repeatedly tells us, a third-rate Christian), Buechner can also savor the past for its own unedifying sake. In one brief scene he describes an encounter with his raffish, mustached, gin-sipping grandfather: standing tongue-tied before the formidable old gentleman, the young boy absent-mindedly turned aside, went up to a marble statuette of the Venus de Milo decorating the living room, ""reached up, and touched one of the cool, white breasts. I can hear his short, dry laugh still--as short and dry as his martini and wickeder."" Buechner has a weakness for lush atmospheric effects, but his story, on the whole, is a candid and credible one.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row