Aug. 19—Stop, Look, & Listen: The Wisdom of Frederick Buechner


Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’—John 14:6

Frederick Buechner died this past Monday at his home in Rupert, Vermont at the age of 96. Ordained a Presbyterian “Evangelist’ (meaning he was not assigned to a congregation), Buechner was a prolific author and widely acclaimed preacher and theologian. In their obituary for him, The Washington Post observed, that Buechner “found his flock not in a church but among the readers of his books, dozens of works of fiction, nonfiction, memoir and theology in which he sought to capture ‘the elusive presence of the holiness of God.’”[1]

Buechner was a graduate of The Lawrenceville School and Princeton University, completing his Bachelor’s degree after a two-year interruption to serve in the Army during World War II. After obtaining his degree, he taught English at Lawrenceville for a time before moving to New York City to focus on writing. In 1950, at age 23, his first novel, A Long Day’s Dying was published and became a best-seller. While in New York, he began attending Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and was stirred by the preaching of the renowned pastor, George Buttrick. During this period, Buechner discerned a calling to ordained ministry. As he tells it, Buttrick somewhat reluctantly directed him toward Union Theological Seminary in New York, where luminaries such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich were teaching. According to Buechner, Buttrick said to him, “It would be a shame to lose a good novelist for a mediocre preacher.”[2]

Listening to life in search of the presence of God might be a fair summary of the theme of much of Buechner’s work. The following excerpt, I think, captures this. Buechner writes:

Is it too much to say that to stop, look, and listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to the history, is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the-sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power plays says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command. And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like the artists, we must see not just their faces, but the life behind and within.[3]

About being a Christian, Buechner wrote:

Some think a Christian is just a nice person. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (John 14:6). He didn’t say that any particular ethic, doctrine, or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was. He didn’t say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that one could “come to the Father.” He said it was only by him—by living, participating in, being caught up by the way of life that he lived embodied, that was his way…[4]

Frederick Buechner the man has died, but his words, insights, faithfulness and sage counsel live on through his books. Stop, look, and listen.

Blessings and peace,

In Christ,

Bishop Stokes's Signature





The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey



[1] Langer, Emily “Frederick Buechner, prolific novelist and theologian, dies at 96” – The Washington Post – August 22, 2022 found at

[2] Recounted in McFarlan “Died: Frederick Buechner, Popular Christian ‘Writer’s Writer’ and ‘Minister’s Minister’” – Christianity Today website – August 15, 2022 found at

[3] Buechner, Frederick “ABCs of Faith” in Buechner 101: Essays, Excerpts, Sermons and Friends by Frederick Buechner – Introduction by Anne Lamott (Published by The Frederick Buechner Center, 2016) Kindle location 561.

[4] Buechner 101 – Kindle location 569.