Book Review: The Remarkable Ordinary and A Crazy Holy Grace

For those like me who may be unfamiliar with the name Frederick Buechner, he is a Presbyterian minister and apparently a prolific writer with over 30 books. I agreed to read and review his books simply found myself intrigued by the titles of his latest releases: A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory and The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life.

It is no secret and you will quickly learn that at a young age Buechner’s father took his own life, and it is clear in A Crazy, Holy Grace that grappling with pain, memory, and grace are not foreign to his experience. The book is a short read of 137 pages divided into three sections: Pain and God’s Crazy, Holy Grace; The Magic of Memory; and Reflections on Secrets, Grace, and How God Speaks.

“But when it comes to putting broken lives back together–when it comes, in religious terms, to the saving of souls– the human best tends to be at odds with the holy best.” (p 41)

There were several moments throughout the book that I marked to come back to and ponder more. Buechner is very vulnerable in sharing the pain and memories of his life, and speaks of how the pain we encounter in life, because we will encounter pain, can actually be a treasure if we allow the crazy, holy grace of God to draw us closer. As hard as that is to understand and accept, I completely agree with him in this and love the concept he presents of stewarding our pain.

His writing tends to go toward the poetic language, which is beautiful, and real, and raw, but I think I approached the book with a different expectation. Maybe because I’m not in a season of being touched deeply by loss and pain, I had a hard time getting through this little book. I tracked with Buechner in the beginning, got lost somewhere in the memories, and caught back up in reflections. Nevertheless, I think he makes some points worth considering.

“Jesus is crowned again and again in the hearts of people who believe in him amidst confession and tears and great laughter.” George Arthur Buttrick

Another small work and quick read, The Remarkable Ordinary focuses on calling the reader to pay attention to your life that is happening right now. Jesus can be found in the laughter and the tears and the mundane daily tasks if we will just pay attention.

“It’s so easy to look and see what we pass through in this world, but we don’t. If you’re like me, you see so little. You see what you expect to see rather than what’s there.” (p.25)

This book, like the former, is based on a series of unpublished lectures and is in three parts: Stop, Look, and Listen for God; Listening for God in the Stories We Tell; Telling the Truth.

The first part of the book is, I would say, more practical and theological. Buechner points out the connection between art and religion is closer than many see, and how art frames life.

The latter part of the book is more of Buechner’s personal stories. While some of them overlap from A Crazy, Holy Grace, it is presented in a fresh way, and for some reason I followed them a little easier in this retelling.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Remarkable Ordinary.

The very last line of the book is my favorite of all. So if you firmly believe in not knowing how a book ends, don’t read the next paragraph, but it’s just too good to not share.

Joy is “knowing that even though you see only  through a glass darkly, even though lots of things happen–wars and peacemaking, hunger and homelessness–joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are the everlasting arms.”