A Room Called Remember:
Uncollected Pieces

, by Frederick Buechner, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, 190 pages.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

The essence of this book is best described by a paragraph on its back cover:

A Room Called Remember brings together some of Buechner’s finest writings on faith, love, and the power of words in the form of essays, addresses, and sermons. Here Buechner explores autobiography as theology, offers exhilarating reflections on biblical passages, and leads us into the “room called Remember,” that “still room within us all where the past lives on as part of the present,…where with patience, with clarity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.”

I found the book to be a smorgasbord of ideas and insights that left me with a sense that in each case I was just getting a glimpse of a reality that could well be the subject for an entire book. Like cream that has risen to the top, it seems to me, this book captures much of the heart of Buechner’s personal quest for wholeness and integrity. Perhaps like no other writer, he has an outstanding ability to intertwine the stuff of faith, the gritty details of life in the real world, and the witness of personal quest. Indeed, in each of the eighteen short chapters, the reader feels that he is being addressed in an extra-ordinarily personal way.

It is Buechner’s contention that failure to reflect deeply on the present and how it is inextricably rooted in the past and affects the future is to remain in the “shallows” of human experience. When this happens to preachers they become “peddlers” of God’s word, invariably telling what will cost them least to tell and what will gain them most. But it is a temptation we all live with – to settle for niceness and usefulness and busyness instead of holiness; to settle for plausibility and eloquence instead of for truth.

I was particularly moved by his reflections on passion and writing, because both of these realities are part of my life. About passion he insists that it must be grounded, not staying within your skin, but finding expression in real life. If it doesn’t it can blow your fuses and burn your house down. In other words, he says that passion without wisdom to give it shape and direction is as empty as wisdom without passion to give it power and purpose.

Buechner’s idea about writing is related to passion. First the lump in the throat, the stranger’s face unfurling like a flower, and then the clatter of the keys…Fire, fire and then the scratch of pen on paper. He compares writing to the efforts of a midwife helping to give birth to something deep within one’s belly. He suggests that the more alive you become to the world both within and around you, the more profoundly you need to put a word to it. And when you do, it makes that reality more manageable and communicable because it has been given shape and texture.

And yet Buechner is aware that words alone can never give full expression to the mystery of the realities to which they point. That is why, he contends, that Christ proclaimed, I am the truth. Even the words he spoke and the words others spoke about him could only point in the direction of the great eloquence and complexity and simplicity of his own life.

I recommend this book highly for those who are interested in deep reflection about faith and life. It is best read a chapter at a time with lots of room in between to think about how Buechner's insights touch base with where you are at. Buy it and keep it!