This memoir reflects on key moments of the author's early life, from childhood to his entering seminary, that reveal how God speaks to us in a variety of ways every moment of every day.
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About the Author
Frederick Buechner, author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction, is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He has been a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent work is Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith.
Read an Excerpt
Once Below a Time
How do you tell the story of your life of how you were born, and the world you were born into, and the world that was born in you? "Once upon a time," youmight say because all beginnings have a legendary quality about them, a promise of magic, but Dylan Thomas uses a different phrase about his childhood which strikes me as a more accurate one. "Once below a time," he says in his poem "Fern Hill," meaning, I assume, that, for a child, time in the sense of something to measure and keep track of, time as the great circus parade of past,present, and future, cause and effect, has scarcely started yet and means little because for a child all time is by and large now time and apparently endless. What child, while summer is happening, bothers to think much that summer will end? What child, when snow is on the ground, stops to remember that not long ago the ground was snowless? It is by its content rather than its duration thata child knows time, by its quality rather than its quantity happy times and sad times, the time the rabbit bit your finger, the time you had your first taste of bananas and cream, the time you were crying yourself to sleep when somebody came and lay down beside you in the dark for comfort. Childhood's time is Adam and Eve's time before they left the garden for good and from that time on divided everything into before and after. It is the time before God told them that the day would come when they would surely die with the result that from that point on they made clocks and calendars for counting their time out like money and never again lived through a day of theirlives without being haunted somewhere in the depths of them by the knowledge that each day brought them closer to the end of their lives.
Once below a time, then, I was born into time neither knowing what it was nor much caring and yet, I suspect, seeing it more nearly for what it truly is than I have perhaps ever managed to see it since. Summers end, to be sure, and when the sun finally burns out like a match, they will end permanently; but be that as it may, it can never be otherwise than that there was a time when summers were. Come fire or flood, it can never be otherwise than that some fifty years ago, on some July or August day at dusk, I raced as a child through fireflies across a green lawn and in some way, with the insight of a child, sensed that that moment would never cease. What was true in my childhood belief that each of our times goes on forever was that once a moment has come into being, its having-beenness is beyond any power in heaven or earth, in life or in death, to touch. What I knew then, without knowing that I knew, was that to see the dusk, the fireflies, the green lawn, in their truth and fullness is to see them, as a child does, already clothed with timelessness, already freighted with all the aeons still to come during which they and everything else that ever was will continue eternally to be what has been a part of the wholeness and truth of eternity itself.
And the people I knew as a child my parents and grandparents, my brother, the nurses who came and went, the teachers and friends, the characters in books. I saw them all in much the same way as boundless. It never crossed my mind that there had been a time before they were or that there would ever come a time when they would be no longer. They were the Atlases who held the world on their shoulders held my world anyway, held me and their heads towered above the clouds. As with time, I had not yet acquired the fateful skill of standing off from them to weigh and measure. As I knew time for what it contained, I knew them for what they had it in them to give me or to withhold, knew them not for whoever they were in themselves, but for who they were for me. Mommy, Daddy, Grandma Buechner, Naya the names they had were the names I gave them, and through these new names I gave them, I gave them also new selves to become-made my father a father, my mother a mother and what they were apart from me, I no more knew or cared than I knew or cared what the world had been before I made my appearance in it or what the ocean was like when I was not there to feel it suck the sand out from beneath my bare feet. And the place where I started out during this once-below-a-time time was Eden, of course. One way or another it is where all of us start out, if we have any luck at all.
I had dominion then over all the earth and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. I saw the earth and its creatures not with the cool eye of the spectator, but with all the passion of a participant in whatever the extraordinary business is that we are all of us participating in, all of us in it together, as it is in all of us. There is no way to recapture fully the wonder and wildness of it. I knew trees before I knew what a tree was or thought I did, knew the cool rustle and darkness of them shot through with flashes of green sun. I knew weather of all kinds, and of all kinds loved rain best and always have....Sacred Journey. Copyright © by Frederick Buechner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.