Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been participating in an online e-mail discussion of Godric by Frederick Buechner as part of Amy’s Faith and Fiction Round Table. The novel is an account of the Medieval hermit and popular (uncanonized) saint Godric of Finchale. This short novel covers the whole of Godric’s life, as told to Reginald, the monk who has come to record his life story, much to Godric’s chagrin. Godric tells a tale of wild living on the high seas, his unsettling love for his sister Burcwen, a vision of Saint Cuthbert that put him on a new path, and the ways his life changed—and the ways his heart did not. The story Reginald tells is, well, something different.
This the second novel by Buechner that I’ve read (Brenden was the first), and I believe it’s his most highly regarded, although The Book of Bebb also gets a lot of praise. It was actually a finalist for the 1981 Pulitzer Prize. I was thoroughly impressed with his inventive use of language and the themes that he explored.
Today, I’ll be sharing an excerpt of the round table discussion. I encourage you to follow the links at the bottom of this post to other blogs who participated, so you can see the entire conversation.
Hannah: One aspect of the book I loved is how it can be read as a picture of self-perception and how it compares (or doesn’t) to others’ view of oneself, as well as how that self-perception differs from (or aligns with) how God sees us.
Teresa: Once I settled in, I enjoyed it. Like Hannah said, self-perception versus others’ perception seems like a major theme. And l think those shifts in person ended up being a clever way of showing the difference in how Godric views himself and how he imagines his biographer, Reginald, sees him.
Carrie: Having said that, there were two things that stood out to me. One was the idea of Reginald, the biographer, romanticizing and sanctifying Godric’s life as he recorded it for history. I firmly believe this still happens today with Christian leaders. We – and by “we,” I mean the church – have a tendency to put our leaders up on pedestals, and believe that they somehow have found the secret to living the sinless life. Oh, sure, they probably have some little sins, but not any of the ones we consider “biggies.” Then, when a leader falls, whether in adultery or dishonest business practices, or whatever, we are absolutely shocked. Why? We know the depth of wickedness that lives in our own hearts – why should we assume someone else is different simply because they are in a leadership position, or have written a book, or recorded a CD?
Teresa: Godric dwells on his own sin, and he wants to be honest about how dirty he is, but Reginald won’t tell that story. My gut instinct is to want to be on Godric’s side because of course it’s important to be honest about our mistakes and our sin, but when I think about it, if Godric has been given God’s grace, perhaps the story that leaves out his sin is true on a cosmic level. He has been cleansed and so has his story. Still, I find comfort in knowing that the great saints struggled with sin, so I can’t quite get behind Reginald’s choice.
Hannah: As much as Godric presented a low view of himself when looking back on his life, in the moment he also didn’t want to tarnish “his good name” (reputation) with his wrong actions. In a way, his pseudonym (Godric, Deric) was a way to allow himself to continue in sin, without worrying as much about the consequences. This made me think. Do we do this today? Do I do this? Put another way: Are there ways I make excuses for my sin, turn a blind eye to willful waywardness?
Amy: I’ve been thinking about this some more….about what Teresa said about perception..our self perception and also how others perceive us. How we almost create characters out of people for the purposes of our own story. And also how sometimes it’s quite beneficial that we don’t know the complete internal life of others! :)
Good point about Godric/Deric, Hannah, I think we all have this sort of angelic/devil side, no?
Teresa: I know there are times when I’m glad people don’t know about my internal life :) And that’s actually one of the things I liked about Godric as a character. He just seemed so exasperated with anything but total honesty. He lays it all out there. And there’s something comforting about hearing other people speaking honestly about their struggles with sin. It makes me feel less alone.
More Godric Discussion
My Friend Amy: Introductory Post
Unfinished Person: The language of the book
My Random Thoughts: Overall Impression
The Fiddler’s Gun: Godric’s relationship with his sister
Book Addiction: Merits of rereading
Books and Movies: Prayer passage
Wordlily: Familiarity with Buechner and the real Godric