“A Broth of False and True”: Frederick Buechner’s Godric

My friend John and I are the sole members of an organization we call “The […]

Larry Parsley / 2.28.18

My friend John and I are the sole members of an organization we call “The Nerd Book Club.” Once a month or so, we grab coffee and talk about books we’ve always wanted to read but lacked the self-discipline to finish on our own. Recently, we committed to read a novel that has been on my bookshelf for nearly two decades: “Godric,” by Frederick Buechner. After finishing it, I warmly recommend its perusal at any Mockingbird-sanctioned soirée.

Here’s why. The novel, loosely based on the historical account of a 12th-century Anglo-Saxon holy man, Godric of Finchale, narrates the story of a “saint” who subscribes to a very low anthropology. After all, “nothing human’s not a broth of false and true.” Godric’s early life breaks most of the Ten Commandments, including a stint as a pirate. A series of spiritual experiences, including baptism in the Jordan River, led him to faith in Christ and a vocation as a hermit. As his reputation for sanctity grows, people make pilgrimages to touch Godric and seek healing. But Godric is deeply ambivalent about the power that resides in his hands.

Of their own, my hands have nothing more than any man’s and less now at this tottering, lamewit age of mine when most of what I ever had is more than mostly spent. But it’s as if my hands are gloves, and in them other hands than mine, and those the ones that folk…seek. It’s holiness they hunger for, and if by some mad grace it’s mine to give, if I’ve a holy hand inside my hand to touch them with, I’ll touch them day and night. Sweet Christ, what other use are idle hermits for?

In Godric’s latter days, an obsequious monk named Reginald of Durham is dispatched to write Godric’s hagiography. As Reginald tries to pretty up the often ugly past of his subject, he justifies himself: “…for the sake of him who is himself the Truth, I leave some small truths out.” But Godric opposes the literary airbrushing techniques of Reginald at every turn. When Reginald tries to tell Godric his name is Saxon for “God reigns,” Godric corrects him and says his name literally means “God’s wreck.”

Over the course of reading this book, I was struck by my deep and persistent temptation to serve as my own Reginald, to tell stories of my life in such a way that the ugly parts are excised and the good parts are magnified. But in my heart of hearts, I know that I, too, am “God’s wreck.” Thankfully, though, I am God’s. And sometimes, God even moves through me, like a holy hand beneath a dirty glove.


2 responses to ““A Broth of False and True”: Frederick Buechner’s Godric

  1. Sean says:


  2. Don C. says:

    How true for me, also. God meets us where we are. If we seek Him, no matter how faltering our steps, He comes.

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