The Experience of Grace

Buechner is lecturing on preaching

The word became flesh and the word is always becoming flesh. And some of the times the flesh that it becomes is our flesh. Sometimes the life which is full of grace and truth is our life which is another way again of saying pay attention to it, listen to it. And draw on your life, not just for illustration, not just for anecdote. There's ways of jazzing up what you're trying to say, some little human interest thing; another tinsel ball to hang on the Christmas tree. Draw on your life, not for illustration but draw on it for truth, not for illustrations of grace, let's say, but for the experience of grace. Tell me when it happened, when you experienced it, what was it like, when did it happen, what did it feel like? Don't be afraid to use the first person singular. Many people, I think, are for one reason or another, we're brought up not to talk about ourselves, it's indecorous, or something like that. I think of my days living in New York where you take a subway. If I had to imagine what hell looked like I'd think of it as a New York subway. The rattle, the noise; this was even before the terror of it, there wasn't so much terror in those days. The lights going on and off, mal odors, the florescent lights blinking on and off. And I remember the faces of people in the subway--those crowded subway trains--separated; separated from each other and from me in every conceivable way by color, by race, by education, by wealth, by poverty, by difference of sex, difference of everything, and yet there were moments--and I think everybody's had these moments--when by grace I looked at those people and I thought in some sense I love them. I love them because we're all on the same subway together; we are all hurtling through darkness to an unknown end. They're my brothers, they're my sisters and I'm not giving this to you as an illustration of grace I'm giving it to you as an experience of grace. This was not a pious truth I thought my way to. It was a holy reality I was knocked over the head by.

  • from a lecture on preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary's Henderson Conference in 1986