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Pages 447 Page size 396 x 531 pts Year 2004
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Beyond Words =
Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith
For my grandson Douglas
Introduction Topics About the Author Books by Frederick Buechner Credits Cover Copyright About the Publisher
My three ABC books—Wishful Thinking (1973), Peculiar Treasures (1979), and Whistling in the Dark (1988)—have been in print for so long now that I’m encouraged to think there continue to be people who ﬁnd them useful and might ﬁnd them more useful still if combined into a single handy volume. So that is what I have done here— tweaking some of the original entries a little and adding enough new ones to bring the grand total up to 366 in the hope that maybe a word a day will help keep the demons at bay. In Wishful Thinking, the words I dealt with were mostly religious words like God, sin, salvation, repentance, and in that book I was as much concerned to show what they don’t mean as what I think they do. I made no attempt to deﬁne them in any comprehensive, scholarly way, but to show how much less boring, banal, and irrelevant they are than the way they all too often sound in church or Sunday school or on the lips of some televangelistic vaudevillian. I tried to suggest something of the true richness and vitality of the realities they point to. I tried to have some fun with them.
viii F r e d e r i c k B u e c h n e r
In Whistling in the Dark, I turned to just plain, everyday words like good-bye, marriage, animals, and remember in the effort to show that they too have a religious dimension and that, just like the plain, everyday events of our lives, speak to us of holy things if we have our eyes and ears open. It is less a theological ABC like its predecessor than an ABC theologized. Peculiar Treasures deals not with words, but with biblical characters all the way from Aaron to Zaccheus. Far from the moral exemplars and stained-glass superstars they are usually taken to be, they are just such a conglomeration of saints and scoundrels, oddballs and screwballs, apostles and apostates, as we are ourselves, so that to look at them as they move through the pages of Scripture is not unlike looking into a mirror. I have called the collection Beyond Words because in one way or another all the words it contains point to the realm of mystery and depth that lies beyond our ordinary experience and thus could be called beyond-words. To say something is beyond words is also to say that it is beyond the power of even beyond-words to convey adequately. Beethoven’s last string quartets, falling in love, the death of a friend—how can we possibly describe such things other than to say that they are ultimately indescribable? You can know them only by experiencing them for yourself, and maybe that is the ﬁnal message of a gallimaufry like this: Be alive to your life! Observe! Pay attention!
oses was three years younger than his brother, Aaron, but starting with the day Pharaoh’s daughter ﬁshed him out of the bulrushes and adopted him, Moses was the one who always got the headlines while Aaron got the short end of the stick. Even when Moses had to clear out of Egypt for doing in an Egyptian Jew-baiter, he landed on his feet by marrying the daughter of a well-heeled sheep rancher across the border. Aaron, in the meanwhile, went quietly off into the ministry, where in the long run he didn’t do so badly either, except that the only people who ever heard about him were the ones who turned to the religion section on the back pages. Moses, on the other hand, was forever making the cover. The payoff came around the time Moses hit eighty, and out of a burning bush God himself voted him Man of the Year. As usual, Aaron had to be content with playing second ﬁddle, which he did well enough until he got the break he’d been waiting for at last, and then he blew it.