Godric: A Novel

Book Reviews

godricBuechner, Frederick. Godric: A Novel. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco Publishing, 1983.

Frederick Buechner has been praised by many as a remarkable preacher, teacher and writer. There is hardly a seminarian of any denomination who has not at least heard of him, and those who have not are missing a treasure. Buechner may best be known for his books of theological alphabets Wishful Thinking, Whistling In The Dark, and others. He has several other titles to his credit ranging from theology to autobiography to novels, many of which marry artistry and humor with spirituality.

Godric is a novel which retells the life of a 12th century holy man. Godric of Finchale tells the story of his life to a young monk who has been assigned to write his biography. It does not take this youthful scribe very long to discover that his subject fancies himself more human than holy. Nevertheless, the writer knows the true Godric and desires to tell that tale despite what obstacles reality might place along the path of its communication.

Godric acquiesces to tell his life story. It is a report that fluctuates between pilgrimage and piracy, sinfulness and sainthood. The story ends with Godric on his deathbed hearing his life reread to him. He becomes flabbergasted with the author because he is referred to as Saint Godric. He does not desire to be remembered as a saint, but a recipient of unmerited grace. To Godric, that is his life's story. Nevertheless, his writing companion publishes the account the way he sees it.

This book is not for everyone. One of the criticisms regarding Buechner's work is that some of his books, the novels in particular, contain embarrassing elements too real for Christian literature (i.e. sex and four-letter words). As scandalous as that may seem, it is far outweighed by the deepness of faith that underlies the work.

Godric is a story that speaks to our realities. The saint himself would remind us that we all are human. As the story zig-zags between sanctity and scandal, it, in a sense, parallels our own stories. Given the chance, how many of us would tell our stories in the same fashion? That is, how many of us would tell the whole truth? If we did, we might chronicle the adventures of bigger scoundrels than the pirate Deric (Godric's alter ego).

The book is a novel, but the story is real. It's your story, and it's my story, too. This story presents an honest portrayal of life, with several eye-popping details. It is of life lived to extremes, but beyond the extremes is God who accepts us and by grace moves us from pirate to pilgrim.

- Chip Reeves
March 8, 2002

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