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Posted November 30, 2004

Book: Speak What We Feel, Not What We Ought To Say
Author: Frederick Buechner
Harper, San Francisco, CA pp.161

Excerpt from the Introduction:

What I have undertaken to do here is to say something first about what the sad times were for each of them -- G.K.Chesterton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare -- in the case of Shakespeare precious little is known, but with the other three a good idea ó and then to consider how those sad times and the way each came eventually to terms with them are reflected in the masterpieces they seem to me to have engendered.

Since I have long since come to believe that all of our stories are at their deepest level the same story, it is my hope that in listening to these four say so powerfully not what they thought they ought to say, but what they truly felt, we may possibly learn something about how to bear the weight of our own sadness.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Like anyone else pushing seventy-five, the stage I hold forth on, like Albanyís, is littered with the dead, including my only brother, my oldest friend, and an increasing number of others I always assumed would be with me till the final curtain rings down. In addition to that, my body is no longer altogether the one I have depended on and enjoyed and neglected all these years, with the result that all sorts of things I thought I would be able to go on doing more or less indefinitely are slipping out of reach and I am still young enough in my mind to bridle at it.

Death, on the other hand, seems less of a negative to me now than it once did. If somebody a while back had offered me a thousand more years, I would have leapt at it, but at this point I would be inclined to beg off on the grounds that, although I continue to enjoy things a good deal most of the time and hope to go on as long as I can, the eventual end to life seems preferable to the idea of an endless and endlessly redundant extension of it. The only really sad part of checking out as I think of it now is that I wonít be around to see what becomes of my grandchildren, who are the light of my life, the oldest of them only seven at this writing. But maybe that is just as well. They say that we are never happier than our unhappiest child, and if that is expanded to include the next generation down, the result is unthinkable.

There is sadness too in thinking how much more I might have done with y life than just writing, especially considering that I was ordained not only to preach good news to the poor but to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, and raise the dead. If I make it as far as St. Peterís gate, the most I will be able to plead is my thirty-two books, and if that is not enough, I am lost. My faith has never been threatened as agonizingly as Chestertonís or Hopkinís, or simply abandoned like Mark Twainís, or held in such perilous tension with unfaith as Shakespeareís. I have never looked into the abyss, for which I am thankful. But I wish such faith as I have had been brighter and gladder. I wish I had done more with it. I wish I had been braver and bolder. I wish I had been a saint.

This, in short, is the weight of my own sad times, and listening to these four voices speaking out from under the burden of theirs has been to find not just a kind of temporary release, but a kind of unexpected encouragement.

Take heart, I heard them say, even at the unlikeliest moments. Fear not. Be alive. Be merciful. Be human. And most likely of all: Even when you canít believe, even if you donít believe at all, even if you shy away at the sound of his name, be Christ.