TELLING SECRETS by Frederick Buechner


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Novelist-clergyman Buechner drafts the third installment of his spiritual autobiography, begun with The Sacred Journey (1982) and Now and Then (1983). It takes a long time for Buechner to get some real skin peeled back and show pain in these revelations, which as revelations go are mild indeed and do not once involve the heel of God crushing and humiliating the author as a warm-up for rebirth. Beuchner himself admits that he may sound too mild about his agonies. Perhaps he shot his bolt about his alcoholic father's suicide in the earlier volumes, since he seems only to shadowbox with the event here. Even so, his recent attendance at 12-step programs such as Alanon and Adult Children of Alcoholics has opened the floodgate, and the waters are rising enough for him to enter into written dialogues with his cremated father and to bridge a nearly 70-year silence. Other events that stir him most strongly include coming to terms with his daughter's anorexia: "What. . .was the secret that was too dark or dangerous or private or complicated to tell in any other language which our daughter could bring herself to talk about only in the symbolic language of anorexia?" We never find out, though, however unfortunately, since that is her story to tell. Buechner also only halfway settles up with his late nonagenarian mother, who strapped a seal of silence on her husband's suicide: "Why did my mother close her eyes when she talked to us--what secret was she trying to close in, what invasion of her secrecy was she trying to close out? I, with my eyes wide open, closed my eyes for years to the secret that I was looking to my children to give me more than either they had it in their power to give or could have given without somehow crippling themselves in the process." A nice comment but not a rich answer to the question. Buechner is most lively while comparing his teaching a course in preaching at Harvard Divinity School, with its many humanist atheists, with teaching at evangelical Wheaton College, Billy Graham's soulmother. Some charged moments but much bloodless wordage.

ISBN: 06-561181-2
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