Frederick Buechner Quotes



Frederick Buechner (born July 11, 1926) is a Presbyterian minister and an American author.

Buechner (pronounced BEEK-nur) graduated from Lawrenceville School in 1943 and was accepted to Princeton University. Buechner spent two years (19441946) in the military, including combat duty in World War II, before finishing his studies at Princeton. Buechner received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947. During his senior year he won the prestigious Glascock Prize for poetry.

In 1948, Buechner returned to Lawrenceville as an English teacher. In 1950, Buechner published his first novel, A Long Day’s Dying, which he had begun writing during his senior year at Princeton. Buechner quit teaching in 1953 and moved to New York to become a full-time writer.

Buechner then began attending Union Theological Seminary, and received his Bachelor of Divinity Degree in 1958, which is equivalent to what is now called a Master of Divinity. He then served as the school chaplain at Phillips Exeter Academy from 1958-1967. Collections of his sermons to Exeter students were published.

Buechner’s work has often been praised for its ability to inspire readers to see the grace in their daily lives.


“In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as well produce a cozy emotional feeling as you can a cough or sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our well-being to that end.”

-Frederick Buechner

“The best moments any of us have as human beings are those moments when for a little while it is possible to escape the squirrel-cage of being me into the landscape of being us.”

-Frederick Buechner

“To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do—to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst—is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed.”

-Frederick Buechner

“She was right that reality can be harsh and that you shut your eyes to it only at your own peril because if you do not face up to the enemy in all his dark power, then the enemy will come up from behind some dark day and destroy you while you are facing the other way.”

-Frederick Buechner

“We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our lives but reactors, to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running the strongest.”

-Frederick Buechner

“If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

-Frederick Buechner

“To confess your sins to God is not to tell him anything he doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.”

-Frederick Buechner

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

-Frederick Buechner

“I believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition-that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are-even if we tell it only to ourselves-because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.”

-Frederick Buechner (From the introduction of Telling Secrets)

“The only way I knew to be a father was to take care of her, as my father had been unable to take care of me, to move heaven and earth if necessary to make her well, and of course I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have either the wisdom or the power to make her well. None of us has the power to change other human beings like that, and it would be a terrible power if we did, the power to violate the humanity of others even for their own good…the only way she would ever be well again was if and when she freely chose to be. The best I could do as her father was to stand back and give her that freedom even at the risk of her using it to choose for death instead of life.”

-Frederick Buechner

“Love your neighbors as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, Love yourself as your neighbor. Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, and strengthen yourself. Ministers in particular, people in the caring professions in general, are famous for neglecting their selves with the result that they are apt to become in their own way as helpless and crippled as the people they are trying to care for and thus no longer selves who an be of much use to anybody. If your daughter is struggling for life in a raging torrent, you don’t save her by jumping into the torrent with her, which lead only to your both drowning together. Instead you keep your feet on the dry bank-you maintain as best you can your own inner peace, the best and strongest of who you are-and from that solid ground reach out a rescuing hand.”

-Frederick Buechner

“The power that created the universe and spun the dragon fly’s wing and is beyond all other powers holds back, in love, from overpowering us. I have never felt God’s presence more strongly than when my wife and I visited that distant hospital where our daughter was. Walking down the corridor to the room that had her name taped to the door, I felt that presence surrounding me like air-God in his very stillness, holding his breath, loving her, loving us all, the only way he can without destroying us. One night we went to compline in an Episcopal cathedral, and in the coolness and near emptiness of the great vaulted place, in the remoteness of the choir’s voices chanting plainsong, in the grayness of the stone, I felt it again-the passionate restraint and hush of God.”

-Frederick Buechner

“At least to look back over their own lives, as I have looked back over mine, for certain themes and patterns and signals that are so easy to miss when you’re caught up in the process of living them. If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think he speaks to us largely through what happens to us, so listen to what has happened to you—for the sound, above all else, of his voice.”

-Frederick Buechner

“Because the word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word—a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see—the chances are we will never get it just right. We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling. In a sense autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer.”

-Frederick Buechner

“I could, of course, have done no more if no less than affiliated myself in one way or another with a particular church, could have simply read books about Christianity, talked to Christian people, set out to discover something about what a Christian life is supposed to involve and then tried as best I could to live one. But, on the one hand, that didn’t seem enough to me, and on the other, it seemed to much.”

-Frederick Buechner

“In the last analysis, I have always believed, it is not so much their subjects that the great teachers teach as it is themselves.”

-Frederick Buechner

“The Jesus who is the one whom we search for even when we do not know that we are searching and hide from even when we do not know that we are hiding.”

-Frederick Buechner

“Repent and believe in the gospel, Jesus says. Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is better than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all. Amen, and come, Lord Jesus.”

-Frederick Buechner

“To be bored is to turn a cold shoulder to engage all that God is and has for you in the moment.”

-Frederick Buechner

“Prayer—prayer not as speaking to God, which in a scattered way I do many times a day because I cannot help doing it, but prayer as being deeply silent, as watching and listening for God to speak.” (Pslam 139…but I have calmed and quieted my soul)

-Frederick Buechner

“What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continually engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought.”

-Frederick Buechner

“You may never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

-Frederick Buechner (Whistling in the Dark)

“Our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.”

-Frederick Buechner

“The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments.”

-Frederick Buechner (From The Magnificent Defeat)

“If God speaks to us at all in this world, if God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks. Someone we love dies, some unforeseen act of kindness or cruelty touches the heart or makes the blood run cold. We fail a friend, or a friend fails us, and we are appalled at the capacity we all of us have for estranging the very people in our lives we need the most. Or maybe nothing extraordinary happens at all—just one day following another, helter-skelter, in the manner of days. We sleep and dream. We wake. We work. We remember and forget. And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks.”

-Fredrick Buechner (The Sacred Journey) 

“He comes to us in such a way that we can always turn him down…God comes to us in the hungry man we do not have to feed, comes to us in the lonely man we do not have to comfort, comes to us in all the desperate human need of people everywhere that we are always free to turn our backs upon.”

-Frederick Buechner (The Hungering Dark)

“One way or another we are always remembering, of course. There is no escaping it even if we want to, or at least no escaping it for long, though God knows there are times when we try to, don’t want to remember. In one sense the past is dead and gone, but in another sense, it is of course not done with at all or at least not done with us. Every person we have ever known, every place we have ever seen, everything that has ever happened to us—it all lives and breathes deep in us somewhere whether we like it or not, and sometimes it doesn’t take much to bring it to the surface in bits and pieces. A scrap of some song that was popular years ago. A book we read as a child. A stretch of road we used to travel. An old photograph, an old letter. There is no telling what trivial think may do it, and then suddenly there it all is—something that happened to us once—and it is there not just as a picture on the wall to stand back from and gaze at but as a reality we are so much a part of still and that it still so much a part of us that we feel something close to its original intensity and freshness what it felt like, say, to fall in love at the age of sixteen, or to smell the smells and hear the sounds of a house that has long since disappeared, or to laugh till the tears ran down our cheeks with somebody who died more years ago than we can easily count or for whom, in every way that matters, we might as well have died year ago ourselves. Old failures, old hurts. Times to beautiful to tell or too terrible. Memories come at us helter-skelter and unbidden, sometimes so thick and fast that they are more than we can handle in their poignance, sometimes so sparsely that we all but cry out to remember more.”

-Frederick Buechner (A Room Called Remember)

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

“Go where your best prayers take you.”

“Listen to your life. All moments are key moments.”

“The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.”

“The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

-Frederick Buechner

There is little we can point to in our lives as deserving anything but God’s wrath. Our best moments have been mostly grotesque parodies. Our best loves have been almost always blurred with selfishness and deceit. But there is something to which we can point. Not anything that we ever did or were, but something that was done for us by another. Not our own lives, but the life of one who died in our behalf and yet is still alive. This is our only glory and our only hope. And the sound that it makes is the sound of excitement and gladness and laughter that floats through the night air from a great banquet.

Frederick Buechner 

“And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?”

-Frederick Buechner



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