(I'm in the process of transferring meaningful quotations from my former website to this page. It's currently incomplete, and efforts will be on hold as I begin ophthalmology residency.)
The Myth of Sisyphus
- "The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory."
- "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
"C'est toujours la lutte entre le raissonable et ce qui ne l'est pas."
ANTOINE DE ST. EXUPERY:
Le Petit Prince
- "L'essentiel est invisible aux yeux."
"The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things but their inward significance."
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2: 5-11
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which trancends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
"...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Philippians 2:12-13
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25: 40
"I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." ~Philippians 4:12-13
"Blessed are the poor in spirit;
The kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Blessed are the sorrowful;
they shall find consolation.
Blessed are the gentle;
they shall have the earth for their possession.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail;
they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are those who show mercy
mercy shall be shown to them.
Blessed are those whose hearts are pure;
they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers;
they shall be called God's children.
Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of right;
the kindom of Heaven is theirs." ~Matthew 5:3-10
"I did not come to abolish, but to complete." ~Matthew 5:17
"Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors..." ~Matthew 5:44
"Notre père qui est aux cieux
Que ton nom soit sanctifié
Que ton règne vienne
Que ta volonté soit faite,
Sur la terre comme au ciel.
Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain quotidien.
Pardonne-nous nos offenses
Comme nous pardonnons aussi
À ceux qui nous ont offensés.
Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation;
Mais délivre-nous du mal." ~Matthieu 6:23
"I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. But there are other sheep of mine, not belonging to this fold; I must lead them as well, and they too will listen to my voice. There will then be one flock, one shepherd. The Father loves me because I lay down my life, to receive it back again." ~John10:14-16
"Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust God always; trust also in me. Thre are many dwelling-places in my Father's house....Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give. Set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears." ~John 14:1-2; 27
"'If it is possible,' said Jesus. 'Everything is possible to one who believes.' At once the boy's father cried: 'I believe; help my unbelief.'" ~Mark 9:23-24
"Keep awake." ~Mark 13:37
"There are three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of the three is love." ~1 Corinthians 13:13
"I said, 'I am resolved to be wise,' but wisdom was beyond my reach--whatever has happened lies out of reach, deep down, deeper than anyone can fathom." ~Ecclesiastes 7:23-24
"For everything its season..." Ecclesiastes 3:1
"...I perceived that God has ordered it that no human being should be able to discover what is happening here under the sun. However hard he may try, he will not find out; the wise may think they know, but they cannot find the truth of it." Ecclesiastes 8:17
"...time and chance govern all." Ecclesiastes 9:11
- Les Pensées
- "Naturally we think ourselves more capable of reaching the center of things than of embracing their circumference."
- "Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas."
- "La Sagesse nous renvoie à l'enfance."
- “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist."
- Mere Christianity
“God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from.”
“Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having…the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we fell inclined to disagree with him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source.”
“We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”
“He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.”
“The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see.”
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man…It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of comparison has gone, pride has gone.”
“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.”
“Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings.”
“It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.”
“Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already.”
“Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ…it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.”
“God is the thing to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal.”
“Humanity has been already ‘saved’ in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation.”
“That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through both errors.”
“In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, ‘live for others’ but always in a discontented, grumbling way—always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself.”
“You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says, ‘Take up your Cross’—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute he says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden light.’ He means both.”
“God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” (George Macdonald)
“That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect…”
“There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so.”
“The very first step is to try to forget about the self all together. Your real, new self will not come as long as you are looking for it.”
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
- Blue Like Jazz
- "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.
After that I liked Jazz music.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn't reslove. But that was before any of this happened."
- "Though he understood that God wanted nothing in return, his mind could not communicate this fact to his heart, so his life was something like torture."
- "I believed I was above the grace of God...It isn't that I want to earn my own way to give something to God, it's that I want to earn my own way so I won't be charity."
- "Some of my friends who aren't Christians think that Christians are insistent and demanding and intruding, but that isn't the case. Those folks are the squeaky wheel. Most Christians have enormous respect for the space and feedom of others; it is only that they have found a joy in Jesus they want to share. There is the tension."
- "We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for the televangelists, we sill apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them."
- "The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me."
- "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.
- "You died on a Saturday morning. And I had you placed here under our tree. And I had that house of your father's bulldozed to the ground. Momma always said dyin' was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn't. Little Forrest, he's doing just fine. About to start school again soon. I make his breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I make sure he combs his hair and brushes his teeth every day. Teaching him how to play ping-pong. He's really good. We fish a lot. And every night, we read a book. He's so smart, Jenny. You'd be so proud of him. I am. He, uh, wrote a letter, and he says I can't read it. I'm not supposed to, so I'll just leave it here for you. Jenny, I don't know if Momma was right or if, if it's Lieutenant Dan. I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time. I miss you, Jenny. If there's anything you need, I won't be far away."
- "Simplicity is the result of profound thought."
- The Hungering Dark
- "To try to talk about him in terms of time and space, which are the only terms we know, is like a man who has been blind from birth trying to talk about colors in terms of sound and touch, which are the only terms he knows. The best you can do in either case is to speak in the language of symbol and metaphor."
- “But the danger is that there are so many voices, and they all in their ways sound so promising. The danger is that you will not listen to the voice that speaks to you through the seagull mounting the gray wind, say, or the vision in the temple, that you do not listen to the voice inside you or the voice that speaks from outside but specifically to you out of the specific events of your life, but that instead you listen to the great blaring, boring, banal voice of our mass culture, which threatens to deafen us all by blasting forth that the only thing that really matters about your work is how much it will get you in the way of salary and status, and that if it is gladness you are after, you can save that for the weekends.”
- “Saviour, be born in each of us who raises his face to thy face, not knowing fully who he is or who thou art, knowing only that thy love is beyond his knowing and that no other has the power to make him whole. Come, Lord Jesus, to each who longs for thee even though he has forgotten thy name. Come quickly. Amen.”
- “I fend off the world, I avoid getting involved with other people’s needs, so that I can get ahead in the world myself. But at this deeper level, much deeper than conscience, the truth of it is that I need the world. I need the very ones that I keep at a distance. I need to love and be loved by the very ones from whom I hide myself behind this face. I need them not so that I can ease my conscience but so that I can be myself.”
- “The voyage into the self is long and dark and full of peril, but I believe that it is a voyage that all of us will have to make before we are through. Either we climb down into the abyss willingly with our eyes open, or we risk falling into it with our eyes closed—a point at which religion and psychiatry seem to agree.”
- “We must build our arks with love and ride out the storm with courage and know that the little sprig of green in the dove’s mouth betokens a reality beyond the storm more precious than the likes of us can imagine.”
- “And he says that if you follow him, you will end up on some kind of cross but that beyond your cross and even on your cross you will also find your heart’s desire, the peace that surpasses understanding.”
- “How do we draw near? Through the prayers not just that we pray in church, God knows, but through the anytime, anywhere prayer that is Remember me, even though I don’t remember you, that is What is the truth? which is also a prayer.”
- “It is the way of keeping silence from time to time before the holy mystery of life in this strange world and before the power and grace that surround us in this strange world. It is the way of love.”
- “…that wherever you look beneath another’s face to his deepest needs to be known and healed, you have seen the Christ in him; that wherever you have looked to the deepest needs beneath your own face—among them the need to know and to heal—you have seen the Christ in yourself.”
- “We cannot hope that hope any more because it is too fantastic for us, but maybe if in some dim, vestigial way we are Christians enough still to believe in mystery, maybe if beneath all our sad wisdom there is some little gibbering of madness left, then maybe we are called to be in some measure fantastic ourselves, to say at least maybe to the possibility of the impossible. When Jesus says that even as the world writhes in what may well be its final agony, we must raise our heads and look up because our redemption is near, maybe we are called upon to say not yes, because yes is too much for us, but to say maybe, maybe, because maybe is the most that hope can ever say. Maybe it will come, come again, come pronto. Pronto viene, Jesus Christo."
- The Alphabet of Grace
Like most theology, most fiction is of course also at its heart autobiography.
The invisible manifests itself in the visible.
I am a necropolis.
Darkness was upon the face of the deep, and God said, “Let there be light.” Darkness laps at my sleeping face like a tide, and God says, “Let there be Buechner.” Why not? Out of the primeval chaos of sleep he calls me to be a life again. Out of the labyrinth of selves, born and unborn, remembered and forgotten, he calls me to be a self again, a single true and whole self. He calls me to be this rather than that; he calls me to be here rather than there; he calls me to be now rather than then.
Come unto me. Come unto me, you say. All right then, dear my Lord. I will try in my own absurd way. In my own absurd way I will try to come unto you, a project which is in itself by no means unabsurd. Because I do not know the time or place where you are. And if by some glad accident my feet should stumble on it, I do not know that I would know that I had stumbled on it. And even if I did know, I do not know for sure that I would find you there. I do not know for sure that it was indeed your name that made my tears come when I wrote it with my finger in the wet. And if you are there, I do not know that I would recognize you. And if I recognized you, I do not know what that would mean or even what I would like it to mean. I do not even well know who it is you summon, myself.
Follow where your feet take you.
Perhaps there is no gift more precious than the gift of spontaneity, the ability of certain men and animals to act straight and fresh and self-forgettingly out of the living center of who they are without the paralyzing intervention of self-awareness.
. . . by the giddy grace of God. . .
All of which is to say I am a congenital believer, a helpless hungerer after the marvelous as solace and adventure and escape. I am also a fabricator, and I am willing to believe that the whole business of God in my life may be something I have fabricated out of my need for solace and adventure if not for escape because religion has never seemed escape to me. Escape would be for me to get out of religion--with all its demands and promises--rather than to get into religion.
I happen to believe in God because here and there over the years certain things happened. Not one particularly untoward thing happened, just certain things. To be more accurate, the things that happened never really were quite certain and hence, I suppose, their queer power.
Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be. Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.
Driving home from church one morning full of Christ, I thought, giddy in my head almost and if not speaking in tongues at least singing in tongues some kind of witless, wordless psalm, I turned on the radio for the twelve o’clock news and heard how a four year old had died that morning somewhere. The child had kept his parents awake all night with his crying and carrying on, and the parents to punish him filled the tub with scalding water and put him in. These parents filled the scalding water with their child to punish him and, scalding and scalded, he died crying out in tongues as I heard it reported on the radio on my way back from of all places church and prayed to almighty God to kick to pieces such a world or to kick to pieces Himself and His Son and His Holy Ghost world without end standing there by the side of that screaming tub and doing nothing while with his scrawny little buttocks bare, the hopeless little four-year-old whistle, the child was lowered in his mother’s arms. I am acquainted with the reasons that theologians give and that I have given myself for why God does not, in the name of human freedom must not, by the very nature of things as he has himself established that nature cannot and will not, interfere in these sordid matters, but I prayed nonetheless for his interference.
How do I happen to believe in God? I will give one more answer which can be stated briefly. Writing novels, I got into the habit of looking for plots. After a while, I began to suspect that my own life had a plot. And after awhile more, I began to suspect that life itself has a plot.
With words as valueless as poker chips, we play games whose object it is to keep us from seeing each other’s cards. Chit-chat games in which “How are you?” means “Don’t tell me who you are,” and “I’m alone and scared” becomes “Fine thanks.”
A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A miracle is where one plus one equals a thousand.
Religion as a word points essentially, I think, to that area of human experience where in one way or another man happens upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage, a come-all-ye; where he is led to suspect the reality of splendors that he cannot name; where he senses meanings no less overwhelming because they can only be hinted at in myths and rituals, in foolish, left-handed games and cloudy novels; where in great laughter perhaps and certain silences he glimpses a destination that he can never know fully until he reaches it.
. . . we catch glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by. Only then, unlike the saints, more pigs always than heroes, we tend to go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something has happened even though we are not sure what it was or just where we are supposed to go with it, is to enter that dimension of life that religion is a word for.
What is the question Jesus answers?
My trouble is not only that I am not sure what the answer to my question is but that like Gertrude Stein on her deathbed, I am not even sure what the question is. I believe, however, that it has something to do with the price of being a human being. How much does a tin man have to pay for a heart? How much does a cowardly lion have to fork out for courage? What does it cost a scarecrow to be a man? Some question like that.
Maybe the creature under the tree has just been told that if he wants to life, first he has to die, and his mouth is wrenched open with what may be either a roar of great laughter or a wail of despair. What it costs to be a man, he is told, is everything he’s got. To be rich, he must be willing to spend himself down to the last nickel. To be happy, he must be willing to let his heart break. To be blessed, he must be willing to live like a damned fool--giving not getting, losing not winning, reaching out into the night for a hand that’s not there, dancing a dance that clack-clack is the only music to.
The alphabet of grace is sufficient.
Half the time neither of us is quite sure what the other is talking about, which is partly because we both talk too fast about too many things and partly because we do not so much listen, I think, as in our eagerness listen to ourselves listen.
Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you a high and driving peace. I will condemn you to death.
Maybe it is a miracle that happens when you shake hands with your left hand instead of your right hand. . . Right hand, left hand, what difference should it make except of course that it makes all the difference because right hands have long since forgotten how to clasp in any but a chit-chat way, and right hands touching do not often touch life into each other as on Michelangelo’s ceiling they do, Adam there and the old man in the cloud reaching out to each other. But the left hand has the advantage of inexperience. The left hand is the country-cousin gawking down Broadway, and to clasp left-handed is for a moment at least to clasp of all things another human hand, and one plus one is more than two.
Goodbye. Goodbye. Leaning down with my hand on her shoulder, my face touches my wife’s face, coffee on our breaths, and glancing back at her from the door, I am for an instant aware of how the air between us flattens out a little, bows, like a hayfield when the breeze comes up. Marriage becomes right hands clasped. But sometimes goodbye breaks them apart just long enough for them to clasp again, left-handed.