When I was at Laity Lodge last fall for the writer’s retreat with the High Calling staff, I spent some time in the bookstore (my wife would not be surprised). It’s a small shop, but it's packed with some truly fine things to read. You can also use it something like a library, returning a book or books when you’re finished reading or when you leave.
I found wonderful things in that shop – poetry, fiction, memoirs, meditations and all other kinds of works involving faith. And I found two works by Frederick Buechner.
Buechner, now 84, published his first novel in 1950. His writings cross genres. The first work of his that I ever read was the novel Brendan, published in 1987. I have the paperback edition, published in 1988, so that would have been about the time I read it. It’s the story of the seafaring Irish monk who spent his life searching for the terrestrial paradise (roughly 484 to 577 A.D.) (yes, I know I wrote A.D.; I will resist “C.E.” to my grave, but that’s another blog post).
So I bought it, but I waited for a couple of months before I read it. It is a series of meditations, possibly sermons but they don’t really read like sermons, based on various passages of scripture.
Confession time: the meditations in this book have prompted at least one poem (“The gods are dying”) and the whole series of blog posts I did for Christmas on the innkeeper, the shepherd, the wise man and so on. And this work is so rich that it’s capable of inspiring a lot more. Not bad for a slim volume of 144 pages.
It had been a long time since I read any of Buechner’s writings, and The Magnificent Defeat reminded me both of what I cherished about his work and what I had been missing by not going back and reading all of it.
The title, by the way, is like several of his titles – harking back to the magical novels of Charles Williams, friend of C.S. Lewis and a fellow Inkling. The defeat of the title is God’s defeat of the human soul.
That idea alone is worth pondering a long time.