I mentioned last week that I’ve been reading Frederick Beuchner’s collection of essays Longing for Home, published in 1996. I call it an essay collection for lack of a better phrase – it’s part memoir, part poetry, part essay and part a lot of other things.
One of the essays is about “Rinkitink in Oz,” one of the Oz books written by L. Frank Baum at the height of his writing career but not published until a decade afterward. I once knew there were several Oz books, but the one with the wizard that became the movie that became the legend overshadowed all the rest. For Beuchner, the story of Rinkitink played an important role for young Freddy Beuchner, whose family life was becoming increasingly difficult.
Those difficulties are dealt with in section called “The Schroeders Revisited,” 16 poems by Beuchner to make sense of his father’s suicide, written long after the event itself. I’ll be writing about these poems soon. For now, know that even though he fictionalized the names, those poems are Beuchner's personal history that disrupted and changed so many lives.
It was the essay entitled “The Journey Toward Wholeness” that wrapped itself around my head and, I think, my heart.
We understand that we are all broken people living in a broken world, and that our lives are indeed a journey toward wholeness. He broken world we live in is not always a hospitable place, or it’s occasionally hospitable while it’s mostly unfriendly. “The world floods in on all of us,” Buechner writes. “The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in God, and it can decimate our faith.”
He then consider Jesus at the last supper, Jesus knowing that he would be dead within 24 hours, knowing the beating and scourging to come, and the torture of being nailed to the cross. Of all of the legacies he could have left, he washed the disciples’ feet, he asked them to remember him with bread and wine, and he left them his peace. “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Beuchner writes this: “All his life long, wherever Jesus looked, he saw the world not in terms simply of its brokenness – a patchwork of light and dark calling forth us in us now our light, now our dark – but in terms of the ultimate mystery of God’s presence buried in it like a treasure buried in a field.” That treasure, Beuchner says, isn’t just the pearl of great price, the mustard seed, the leaven or yeast. It was a treasure that was within them “as it also within us.”
And sometimes we see this, we see this treasure and the world as it is meant to be, and it is stunning. It could be an absolutely glorious sunset suddenly jolts us to an awareness of what the world is meant to be. It could be reading aloud a poem you’ve written. It could be what happens when you’re sitting with a young pastor in what had formerly been East Germany. But the fact is that we all have these moments of utter clarity when we see and we know what God is about, when we see past the brokenness in the world and in ourselves, when we understand what is meant to be.
And what one day will be.