How to Lose Yourself in the Morning

buechner.jpgI did it this morning.


I got lost.  I was sitting at my kitchen table early this morning with Frederick Buechner’s book Yellow Leaves.  I sat down with this book in one hand, a yellow highlighter in the other, and a cup of fresh coffee beside my book. 


I got lost in a story.   


What was the story?  Really, it almost doesn’t matter.  After all, I didn’t get lost because the story was spellbinding.  I didn’t get lost because the story was thrilling or suspenseful.  I didn’t get lost because the story was a nail-biter.


I got lost in Frederick Buechner’s story because he is a wonderful story-teller.  He is attentive to detail as he tells a story.  His language is clear, precise, and full of color.  As I read his story, I forgot that I was reading a book, gazing at black words on white paper.


No, I didn’t see words but people.  I saw faces with emotion.  I heard sounds.  I felt the emotion of some of the characters.  At one point, I wanted to Google a certain city in Europe that he was in.  I wanted to Google it to see where "we" were in the story and to see the place where "our" hotel was located.


Now this is not the first time that I’ve gotten lost in a Buecher story.  It first happened in the late 1970’s.  I was listening to a lecture on preaching.  It was very moving.  The speaker at one point read these lines in which Buechner describes the preaching moment: 


…Fresh from breakfast with his wife and children and a quick run through of the Sunday papers, the preacher climbs the steps to the pulpit with his sermon in his hand.  He hikes his black robe up at the knee so that he will not trip over it on the way up.  His mouth is a little dry.  He has cut himself shaving.  He feels as if he has swallowed an anchor.  If it weren’t for he honor of the thing, he would just as soon be somewhere else.


In the front pews the old ladies turn up their hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six-year old a Lifesaver and a Magic Marker.  A college sophomore home for vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand.  The vice-president of a bank who twice that week has seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack.  A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her.  A high-school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee…


…The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a riverboat gambler.  The stakes have never been higher.  Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this minute he has them in the palm of his hand.  The silence in the shabby church is deafening because everybody is listening even himself.  Everybody knows the kind of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them?  (Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale, pp. 22-23)

That day, when I heard these lines, I got lost again.  I forgot about the lecture and began to think about the preaching moment.  For a few moments, I was reminded of how important and special that moment really is.


I’m curious.  Who is your favorite storyteller?  Why this person?

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10 thoughts on “How to Lose Yourself in the Morning

  1. Spoken word, I’d have to go with Fred Craddock or Garrison Keillor.  Written, I’m always reeled in by Updike, Hemingway and Grisham.  You don’t have to work to listen to their stories.  The dialogue and descriptions, etc. seem so very much like the way things really are.

  2. Spoken: Garrison Keillor; written: whoever can take me so completely into the moment that I forget that I’m reading the story and feel instead, like I’m there, a part of the story.But this quote from Buechner, it’s one of my all time favorites regarding preaching. It was one of the first quotes I encountered specifically about preaching very shortly after I preached my first sermon years ago. No quote on preaching has stuck with me so thru the years like this one. I find myself going back to it often. Thank you for taking me there again, Jim.

  3. Frank–I also enjoy the stories told by Craddock and Garrison Keillor.  As I read their names in your comment, I could remember the sound of each of their voices as they told stories.David– I like the way you express this.  You felt as if you were not listening to a story but that you had become part of the story. Bill–I agree.  Greg is a very good storyteller.

  4. I’m humbled by the comments above! One of the better story tellers in my life is an uncle of mine who can hold you spell-bound. The story doesn’t even have to come to any point, he just knows how to hold you captive. Too, one of the elders at the Long Beach church where I attempted to preach for 15 years can tell a story — any story — and have you rolling in the floor with laughter before he is finished.

  5. Matthew—Thanks.  Both of these people are very good storytellers.  Greg—Regarding the guy you mentioned at Long Beach.  I must know his cousin!  The guy can tell the most vanilla story and it is funny.  The more people laugh the funnier he gets. Kinney—You are right.  He can tell a story!

  6. I think one of the main reasons I enjoy reading Eugene Peterson is that there is something of a narrative even in his more doctrinal-based books. I remember hearing him say that Pastors should read as much fiction/novels as Christian books, to learn how to tell stories well.