For many years, I have read Frederick Buechner. Yesterday, I began reading The Yellow Leaves, which is a collection of essays, short stories, and poems.
The book has a brief introduction in which Buechner says,
"I can still write sentences and paragraphs, but for some five or six years now I haven’t been able to write books. Maybe after more than thirty of them the well has at last run dry. Maybe, age eighty, I no longer have the right kind of energy. Maybe the time has come to simply stop. Whatever the reason, at least for the moment, the sweet birds no longer sing." (p. ix)
It was difficult for me to read these lines. Eighty years old? It is hard for me to imagine Buechner no longer writing a book. There is something about his writing that causes me to think way beyond the words on the page to my life and those who in some way have been a part of my life.
In the book, he tells the story of a journey he took in 1950 at twenty-four years of age. He left for Europe aboard a British freighter named the Rialto. He tells of walking onto the deck one night and finding an officer of the ship "… peering into the dark through binoculars."
… He told me he was scanning the horizon for signs of other ships, and the way to do that, he explained, was to look not at the horizon but just above it. He said you could see better that way than by looking straight on, and I have found it to be an invaluable truth in many ways. Listen not just to the words being spoken but to the silences between words, and watch not just the drama unfolding on the stage but the faces all around you watching it unfold. Years later when preaching a sermon about Noah, it was less the great flood that I tried to describe than the calloused palm of Noah’s hand as he reached out to take the returning dove, less the resurrection itself than the moment, a day or two afterward, when Jesus stood on the beach cooking fish on a charcoal fire and called out to the disciples in their boat, "Come and have breakfast." (p. 29)
How very true! I have learned that one can learn a great deal about someone by looking just above the horizon. Yes, one can learn something from their words. Yet, I’ve found one can learn a great deal by watching how they function in the various systems in which they have a role (i.e. family, church, their town or city). How do others within these systems react to this person?
For example, you might learn something about a person by listening to what he/she says about marriage and family. You might learn more by just watching the family. How do his children respond to him? Do they appear to have an emotional connection with him? What about his wife? How do they seem when they are together? What are they like when they are in one another’s presence?