Frederick Buechner’s Godric tells of when misery is “drowned in minstrelsy”


Here is another inspirational passage from “Godric” by Frederick Buechner that is about “misery” and “minstrelsy.”

“All those years ago Tom Ball blessed my ears to hear the poor cry out for help, and I still hear them right enough. I hear them when the mouse squeals in the owl’s cruel claw. I hear them when the famished wolf howls hunger at the moon. I hear them when old Wear goes rattling past in weariness, and in the keening of the wind, and when the rain beats hollow on my roof. In all such sounds I hear the poor folk’s bitter need and in the dimtongued silence too. But when melody wells up in thrushes’ throats, and bees buzz honeysong, and rock and river clap like hands in summer sun, then misery’s drowned in minstrelsy, and Godric’s glad in spite of all. Yet sometimes too he’s sad in spite of all, God knows, for there are other voices than the poor’s.” (Godric. p. 29; note that “old Wear” refers to a river)

I find the world that Buechner has “reproduced” in Godric to be fascinating. The medieval faith-filled worldview that paints the mundane with such significance seems far preferable than our modern/postmodern nihilistic shallowness in which we struggle to believe in anything. In his book “Speak What We Feel,” writing of Robert Lewis Stevenson (and G.K. Chesterton,) Frederick Buechner said,

“In the section of Chesterton’s biography of him (Stevenson) that deals with his student days among the pessimists and nihilists of Paris, he writes that ‘He stood up among all these things and shook himself with a sort of impatient sanity; a shrug of skepticism about skepticism. His real distinction is that he had the sense to see that there is nothing to be done with Nothing,’ and there seems no reason to doubt that it was from this aspect of Stevenson that he particularly took heart and that in describing him here, he was describing himself.” (Speak What We Feel, p. 112)


And through Godric, Stevenson and Chesterton, we find Buechner’s faith-filled world of “misery” and “minstrelsy.” It is much more that nothing, since “there is nothing to be done with Nothing.” And of course, life being essentially “minstrelsy,” is because of the fact that God the Creator is younger than we are, and is also the basis for one of Godric’s (Buechner’s) most memorable sayings,

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”

Comments, etc., are always welcome! Thank you!

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013

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