Full Title: A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory
Author: Frederick Buechner is an American Presbyterian preacher and the author of more than thirty books. His short story “The Tiger” won the O. Henry Award in 1955 and his novel Godric was a Pulitzer-prize finalist in 1980, but Christians of many streams admire him for his candid memoirs and essays. Buechner had an affluent upbringing between Bermuda and the east coast of the United States. He gained fame as a novelist in his twenties. He eventually chose seminary and ordination, but continued to write throughout his lifetime.
A Crazy, Holy Grace (2017) is a compilation of many of Buechner’s best passages related to death, grief, and the problem of suffering. Most of them are taken from his four memoirs, which are highly regarded by many Christian authors. They are listed here:
- The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days (1982)
- Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation (1983)
- Telling Secrets: A Memoir (1991)
- The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found (1999)
While compilations are often detrimental to a writer’s original purpose and flow of thought, I welcome it in the case of Frederick Buechner. Buechner’s memoirs are reflective and untraditional. In my opinion, they don’t drive home a grand thesis from cover to cover. They may feel slow for an informed reader expecting heavy theology. A Crazy, Holy Grace, however, remedies this by drawing together Buechner’s many profound writings on a group of related themes. He is still not proposing a theodicy or a system of thought; but we may read his meaning a little more clearly.
As a child, Frederick Buechner suffered the loss of his father to suicide. He writes of being disconnected from the trauma as a child, but later being haunted by his father’s absence. This experience is one that shapes a large portion of The Sacred Journey, the best of which is found in A Crazy, Holy Grace.
Buechner is nothing if not frank. He chooses honesty over tradition in his writings, telling of his questions about the afterlife in The Sacred Journey and his seminary doubts in Now and Then. A Crazy, Holy Grace may be considered unsettling for a reader that lacks theological grounding. For instance, he imagines a conversation with his grandmother who is in the afterlife. Some readers (especially High Church adherents, perhaps) can appreciate this type of creative reflection, a la George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis; others may find it disruptive or strange. For my own part, I believe that this approach is why many ministers find Buechner so refreshing.
In an interview, Buechner was asked, “Do you envision a particular audience when you write?” He answered:
“I always hope to reach people who don’t want to touch religion with a ten-foot pole. The cultured despisers of religion, Schleiermacher called them. Maybe some of my books reach them. But most of my readers, as far as I can tell, aren’t that type. Many of them are ministers. They say, ‘You’ve given us something back we lost and opened up doors we didn’t think could be opened for people.'” (The Christian Century)