Friday, March 6, 2009

Godric, A Novel by Frederick Buechner

     "Look at the floor, Godric," she said in her thin child's voice.  I looked and saw it freshly strewn with rushes.
     She said, "My lord this morning bade me tell the chamberlain to have them sweeten it with herbs against the feats, and so I did.  They scattered lavender and mint and winter savory all about till now it's fit for royal feet.  And pennyroyal too, that makes me think.  I doubt if there's a sweeter floor in all of Christendom.  But, Godric, do you know what's underneath?"
     I shook my head.  I thought the wine had made her giddy the way she closed her eyes and shivered.  But when she opened them again, I saw that wine was not the cause.  If we'd met as simply man and child, I'd have taken her upon my knee and tried to lullaby the pain away.  
     "What's underneath is turds of dogs and grease and spit and bits of bone," she said.  "The part you see is fair and fresh.  The part you do not see is foul.  Do you know what it reminds me of, this floor?"
     Again I shook my head though I had guessed her meaning well enough.
     "My life," she said, and hid her face."

The premise explored by Buechner in his novel Godric, can be summed in the above passage - the holiest, most devout Christian is yet a man of filthy rags, sinful down to his DNA.  

Saint Godric was an actual man.  He was born in the mid-Eleventh century to an Anglo-Saxon family in Walpole, Britain.  He began his career as a peddler, and later becoming a sailing merchant (pirate?), and then a steward to a wealthy British lord.  During this time he made a pilgrimage to Rome with his mother, as well as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Then at about the age of 30, he forsook his "secular" life and joint the hermit Elric at Wulsingham where he acted as door-keeper and bellringer at the church of St. Giles.  He also took up his education with the choir boys at Saint Mary-le-Bow.  Sometime after the age of 40 he became a hermit himself, settling at Finchale by the River Wear.  There he took up the austere lifestyle of a religious ascetic, dedicating his life to mortifying his flesh in order to become pure before God.  Before his death on May 21, 1170 - now his feast day - he was attributed with knowledge of future and distant events and a love of wild creatures, having power over them.  He is the earliest known lyrical poet in English, including a hymn to the Virgin Mary which he set to music himself. 

In his novel about Saint Godric, Buechner takes these and other facts, and weaves an extraordinary Chaucer-like tale of a man who encounters grace, and then follows after the Giver of grace with all that he knows.  The medieval Roman Church's understanding of holiness is not what we understand it to be today, but any modern Believer would appreciate the struggle in Godric's life to live a life pleasing to our Lord and Maker, but yet struggles daily with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Indeed, in our flesh we are all like the banqueting floor of the passage, lovely and fragrant on the surface, but full of filth beneath.  And like Godric, we can find a remedy for our souls in the One who takes our sins upon Himself and washes us clean.

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered:
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
~ Romans 4:7-8

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