GRACE: Frederick Buechner & Hafiz
Reading poetry is one of the ways some of us nourish our faith, a way we set or reset our inner compass and stay focused on the big picture, on the spiritual journey. I know that is true for me. ‘Setting the Inner Compass’, is a column where I share poems that I find meaningful and hope others do as well.
I was getting ready to write an introduction to a poem about grace by the Persian poet Hafiz when I learned that Frederick Buechner had died. I stopped writing and took some time to reflect, remember and be grateful for his life and work. The obituary in today’s (8/17/22) New York Times with the headline:
Frederick Buechner, Writer on Spirituality and Skullduggery, Dies at 96.
The obituary describes Buechner as “a Presbyterian minister who never held a church pastorate but found his calling writing a prodigious quantity of novels, memoirs and essays that explored the human condition from inspirational and often humorous religious perspectives.”
Buechner’s writing had a huge impact on me, especially in my formative years as a writer and a preacher. I first encountered his work in seminary and was highly influenced by two books: Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (1973) and Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized (1988). In both books he uses everyday language to define classic terms related to Christian faith. He knocks down the barrier between the sacred and secular as he used accessible images to help us see and understand in a new way. One review of Wishful Thinking describes the book as “mere Christianity de-pompoused and de-pietized”. His book of daily meditations, Listening to Your Life is a great daily spiritual companion.
Before I learned of Buechner’s death I chose the poem for this column. It is a poem about living into the grace and holiness of our lives and life around us. One of the most popular pieces from Buechner is his definition of grace found in Wishful Thinking. He writes:
“Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn God looks or bring about your own birth…A crucial eccentricity of Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been but you are because the party wouldn’t be complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid I am with you…”
Buechner was rooted in the reformed Christian tradition. The poem this month is from a different tradition but echoes some of Buechner’s words about grace. “Now is The Time”, is by Hafiz (1325-1389), a Persian poet who was grounded in the Islamic mystical tradition of Sufism. He is a revered Sufi poet, the name Hafiz literally means one who has memorized the entire Quran. In recent years the American poet Daniel Ladinsky has published several collections of Hafiz’s poems. I am grateful for his work and permission to reprint this poem.
Hafiz and Buechner invite us to learn how to embrace the gift, the grace of simply being, being here, alive and loved in this world. It is so easy to think we need to strive to be worthy, forgetting that at the core of Christian faith is the mystery that we are accepted by that which is beyond us as we are, “there is nothing we have to do”.
“Now is the Time” by Hafiz (1325-1389)
Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God?
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
Hafiz is a divine envoy
Whom the Beloved
Has Written a holy message upon.
My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear.
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
“Now is The Time” from the Penguin publication The Gift: Poems by Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky, 1999, used with permission. www.danielladimsky.com
 Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner (Harper & Row 1973)
Rev. Dave Brown is a writer and the creator/host of Blues Vespers. The former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma WA., he serves on the PCUSA Education Roundtable and National Self Development of People Committee. Dave, with an Imam and Rabbi also does programs around interfaith relationships and friendship. His most recent poetry collection is, “I Don’t Usually but…” (firstname.lastname@example.org).