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-by Philip Yancey

The Reverend of Oz

(Second of three parts; click here to read part 1)

Buechner recommends reviewing this more intimate news during the nightly interval when you first turn out the light and lie in the dark waiting for sleep to come. That is when the events of the day-an unanswered letter, a phone conversation, a tone of voice, a chance meeting at the post office, an unexpected lump in the throat-hint at other, subterranean meanings. In these most humdrum events God speaks, and Buechner demonstrates through his writing how to listen.

The same discipline of listening, Buechner claims, also drives his fiction:

"Be still and know that I am God," is the advice of the Psalmist, and I've always taken it to be good literary advice too. Be still the way Tolstoy is still, or Anthony Trollope is still, so your characters can speak for themselves and come alive in their own immortal way. If you're a writer like me, you try less to impose a shape on the hodgepodge than to see what shape emerges from it, is hidden in it. If minor characters show signs of becoming major characters, you at least give them a shot at it because in the world of fiction it may take many pages before you find out who the major characters really are just as in the real world it may take you many years to find out that the stranger you talked to for half an hour once in a railway station may have done more to point you to where your true homeland lies than your closest friend or your into prose that keeps awake the reader as well as the rememberer. He succeeds primarily by attending to his words as acutely as he attends to the events themselves. Raised in a nonreligious home, he got baptized "less from any religious motive, I think, than from simply a sense that like getting your inoculations and going to school, it was something you did." The vaccination worked in a paradoxical way. Baptism during a time when Christianity represented to him all symbol and no substance inoculated him against the cozy imagery of ...

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