The Sacred Journey: a memoir of early days (1982), is the first of four partial autobiographies written by Frederick Buechner. Published in 1982, the work describes the author’s life up until his conversion to Christianity in 1953, at the age of twenty-seven.
Buechner introduces his first autobiographical work with the dual observations that ‘all theology, all fiction, is at its heart autobiography’, and that ‘if God speaks to us at all in this world, if God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks.’ He suggests that the task of the theologian, therefore, is to examine their own lives honestly, and to then express ‘in logical, abstract terms the truths about human life and about God that he has found implicit there.’
The Sacred Journey begins with an impressionistic account of the author’s childhood, culminating in the day of his father’s suicide, and the bereaved family’s relocation to Bermuda. Buechner then recalls the return of his family to the United States following the outbreak of the Second World War, and his attendance at Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, and subsequently Princeton. In the following chapters, Buechner recounts the beginning of his journey as an author, and the composition of his first published work, A Long Day’s Dying (1950).
The final chapter charts the author’s conversion experience, while attending the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, describing the effects of one particularly transformative sermon, delivered by George A. Buttrick:
Jesus Christ refused the crown that Satan offered him in the wilderness, Buttrick said, but he is king nonetheless because again and again he is crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him. And that inward coronation takes place, Buttrick said, “among confession, and tears, and great laughter.” It was the phrase great laughter that did it, did whatever it was that I believe must have been hiddenly in the doing all the years of my journey up till then. It was not so much that a door opened as that I suddenly found that a door had been open all along which I had only just then stumbled upon.
“A singularly graceful synthesis of memoir and theological explanation… Entrancing… poetically rich.”
— Washington Post Book World
“Tells the story of one person’s journey into faith. In doing so, it nudges its readers to explore [their] own sacred journeys.”
“Fascinating… striking… a beautifully successful experiment.”
— New York Times Book Review
“A candid self-portrait of a devout man.”
— Philadelphia Inquirer