Do I dare propose that we can “Grab & Go” the profundity of Frederick Buechner in small bite-size blog posts? This may sound like sacrilege to some, oxymoronic to others – like “reasonable attorney fees” or “the same difference” or even an “unbiased opinion.” Some familiar with the great depths of Buechner’s thinking may simply assert: “It.Can’t.Be.Done.” It would be too much like drinking from an erupting fire hydrant. The only way to really appreciate Buechner is to meditate on his spiritual wisdom from a sacred religious retreat (or perhaps in solitude on a private beach in the Caribbean).
However, I personally believe that the teachings of Buechner offer a particular kind of “integrated spirituality” that is not only conducive for small doses of indulgence, but truly ideal for a constant companion to walk with you as you go about your day. So let’s jump right in to Buechner’s “Message in the Stars” and see what you think. Maybe his message will encourage you as it has me.
In the first sermon I want to share, Buechner is troubled by the issue of God’s existence. He explains:
If God really exists, why in heaven’s name does God not prove that he exists instead of leaving us here in our terrible uncertainty? Why does he not show his face so that a despairing world can have hope? At one time or another, everyone asks such a question. In some objectifiably verifiable and convincing way, we want God himself to demonstrate his own existence (16).
This is what we all want, right?
To this end, Buechner imagined a compelling solution that would satisfy the basic desires of the Creature to his or her Creator. God could simply arrange the stars in the night sky to spell out a clear verdict: “I REALLY EXIST.”
Surely if God would do this for us there would be a tremendous upsurge in hope across the world – especially if God would occasionally change His message to be read in the indigenous languages of all people groups of the world. Does God exist? Just look to the sky each and every night and the clear testimony He has left us. Maybe God would even indulge us with bursts of color and a variety of celestial music to complement the seasons. Surely this clear messaging in the sky would satisfy even the deepest metaphysical speculations. Right?
Think with me just a minute. Can you imagine how the preachers and theologians would all feel? Finally vindicated for their craft once and for all, they would revel in the fact that they had been right all along. Churches would surely overflow into football stadiums and perhaps even all wars would cease across the globe. Buechner contends: “God’s supplying the world with this kind of objective proof of his existence would be extraordinary” (18).
Upon further reflection…
Buechner’s optimism takes an unexpected turn.
What if, after a period of time, some plain “garden-variety child with perhaps a wad of bubble gum in his cheek” had the crazy courage to ask a reasonable question? What if the child simply one day turned to his mom or dad and asked: “So what if God exists? What difference does that make?”
So what? What difference does it make?
And in a twinkling of an eye, the message in the sky would no longer matter like it once did. Buechner laments that it is not objective proof of God’s existence that we really want. Instead, “whether we use religious language for it or not” – we really want the experience of God’s presence. We want to know that He is here – right now – among us. We want Him to know our names and to love us unconditionally. “That is the miracle that we are really after. And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get” (19).
Apparently, a mere mental assent to the fact of God’s existence – even if displayed spectacularly across the evening sky – would not truly satisfy and fill the human soul. While we are down here on planet earth “knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world,” we truly desire to know experientially the Person of God. We ultimately desire His presence – the Holy Mystery – to make sense of “the humdrum, helter-skelter events of each day.”
Buechner argues that even though our days are often full of frustration and struggle, “it is precisely into the nonsense of our days that God speaks to us words of great significance.” Though not written in the sky in shiny lights, God chooses to speak to the depths of our very souls with words like “be brave…be merciful…feed my lambs.”
Here is how Buechner put it:
“These words that God speaks to us in our own lives are the real miracles. They are not miracles that create faith as we might think that a message written in the stars would create faith, but they are miracles that it takes faith to see – faith in the sense of openness, faith in the sense of willingness to wait, to watch, to listen, for the incredible presence of God here in the world among us” (21).
“Grab & Go” This: does your soul crave the presence of God? Knowing of His intimate presence among us is immeasurably more satisfying than even a visual message scattered across the remote sky.
Into His presence we sing this very day.