Brendan is Frederick Buechner’s tale of the sixth-century Irish saint told through the eyes of Brendan’s loyal friend and follower, Finn. I struggled, to be honest, to finish this book. This sixth century Saint seemed to have little to say to me, for my life in the twenty-first century. I was lost in the language and images of sailing the world over 1500 years ago, however, there were moments that truths of humanness in relationship trumped the obscure settings.
Finn was the one I listened to through Buechner’s crafted voice. He was a constant companion to Brendan on journeys to the end of their known world and beyond. Finn literally left his new bride and young son behind to continue his whole life as a faithful observer and confidant. On the last page of the novel Brendan speaks his final dying words to Finn.
I fear the presence of the King, Finn…I fear the sentence of the judge.
Remarkably, Brendan’s life had been one of continually seeking to do and be God’s servant in every way and Finn intimately witnessed this journey. Finn’s words in response after Brendan’s death are more remarkable.
As to the sentence of the judge, I’m not one to know nor even if there be a judge at all. If I Finn, was judge I’d know well enough though.
I’d sentence him to have mercy on himself. I’d sentence him less to strive for the glory of God than just to let it swell his sails if it can.
While the ways and extreme of Brendan’s striving are far removed from my own, I, too, want to take Finn’s words to mean the same for me. Somehow, I, too, want to learn to cease striving and rest in God’s provision. That’s the powerful thing about stories; we locate and make sense of our own lives in someone else’s words about their own.
Today, I planned to spend the day in contemplation; it is just the dog and I here. I went to early Eucharist at the local Episcopal Church where the liturgy supports such contemplation and I don’t know many people there so there is no need to chat. During the brief sermon, the rector said something that spoke to my needs for this day.
You see, I’ve felt a great source of joy in my new job. However, I’m beginning to wonder. I’ve been working really hard on some things—and I have so many ideas for teaching and for writing and for making friends and supporting colleagues and making this house more comfortable and sustaining goodness in all those communities. I am pushing too hard—expecting and considering too many things. The trouble is that I am thinking about doing much more than I am actually doing. And, am I doing things that matter anyway?
I want to have mercy on myself; to strive less for my own glory that I’m not sure I can always distinguish from the glory of God. What does Finn mean just to let [God’s glory] swell his sails if it can?
In his sermon today, Joe said we don’t have to work harder. Sure, there are some limiting habits we might need to change. The Holy Spirit is doing the real work. He was talking about the larger church, actually, but maybe there is a bit of truth in there for me as well.
In Wishful Thinking Buechner writes,
A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s noting you have to do.
We don’t earn God’s favor but live into it; to let it swell his sails if it can.