Thursday, April 17, 2008


The Frederick in my song “Closer to the Moon” is Frederick Buechner. I have been so moved by his work in the last couple years that I couldn't help but write him into a song. There is a sermon in his book Secrets in the Dark that probably changed the way I look at all matters of faith. The sermon is called “Message in the Stars” and if I would have been in the room to hear him speak this segment here, you probably would have found me on the floor sobbing.

Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away. In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.

If you’ve heard me play before you’ve maybe heard me try to quote him and probably fumble all over myself. Because when I think of how deeply I resonate with the way he tells his story, I...lose... my train of thought. I get overwhelmed. I can’t explain it. This morning I was re-reading the introduction to Secrets in the Dark and found myself staring at the page where Frederick (we’re on a first name basis) says this about the sermons he preached at Phillips Exeter Academy:

In sermons like “A Sprig of Hope,” “Message in the Stars,” “The Sign by the Highway,” and “The Face in the Sky” I tried to be as dramatic and vivid as I could without going overboard, to tell a story or set a scene that I hoped would capture their imaginations. I tried not to let them ever see where I was going next, to keep them on their toes, to keep them wondering what on earth I was getting at until suddenly and unexpectedly, if I was lucky, we all of us got there together. I tried to be suggestive, elusive, and unpredictable rather than systematic, dogmatic, and pontifical. I never took it for granted that they believed any of even the most basic affirmations of the Christian faith concerning such matters as God and Jesus, sin and salvation, but always tried to speak to their skepticism and to honor their doubts. I made a point of never urging on them anything I did not believe myself. I was candid about what, like them, I was puzzled by and uncertain of. I tried to be myself. I tried to be honest.

Thank you Frederick, for this.


Lindsay Rae said...

I just wrote a long comment and the computer ate it. Aurgh.

I have been meaning to comment but was home in FL for a week, had to make a final decision for school in the fall (MA in theology at villanova, if you're interested), and apparently need to read a lot simply to sustain my life. :)

I really have been appreciating your blogs recently. I loved the one about the deer and the fire, of course the reflections on the songs, was delighted by the visual thesaurus (am v. curious as to your method of writing and thought processes there), and since I read two Buechner books back to back right before your record came out appreciate this reflection as well. Have you ever read any Henri Nouwen?

When I have more thoughts together I would like to email you. :)

I hope it's sunny and southern-springy in Nashville- it snowed last night here and I'm about ready for some actual spring. :)

Sarah Markley said...

Hi Alli,

I saw you awhile back with Shane and Shane when you all were in Orange County. I was really touched by your music.

Thank you for writing music and sharing it with the world.
Thank you also for sharing your thoughts here on your blog. I look forward to reading more!

It's cool to read the thoughts behind your songs.

Sarah Markley
Orange County, CA

Nelson Prater said...

Thanks, Alli, for bringing Frederick Buechner back to the forefront. You mentioned him in between songs at a concert here in North Texas, and I wrote his name down on a scrap of paper so I could look him up at the library. Then I think the scrap got scrubbed in the wash, as did my memory after I slept that night.

Cat from Teens with a Vision: Nourishing Kids in Poverty said...

Alli, since you recommended Frederick Buechner (when I saw you at the Union last year), another person recommended Frederick's writing to me, and after reading more about his work on your blog, I am now very convinced that I should start reading. Which book is a good one to start with?

By the way, I am extremely excited about your new CD! I can't wait to listen! I especially love "Don't Wash Your Hands of Me." :)

Anonymous said...

Alli - The melody of this song, and the vocal hook that you use between verses, both echo the lonliness that Fredrick says speaks to the presence of God. There is something that resonates within us that says I know I am created for something beyond what I see and hear.

As much as I really love the verses about Sydney and Frederick, I am absolutely floored by the verse about grandpa. It is almost as if the love that we gain through commitment, because it allows us to experience the hollowness of human love, gives us the ears to hear his "voice in the waves upon the shore"...I'm thinking of the way the hollowness of a guitar allows us to hear the sound that is vibrating from the strings that would otherwise be tinny and quiet.

The analogy of your life experience and love being like a river that is sometimes fast and sometimes slow, sometimes full and sometimes shallow, and dependent on the rain you got last absolutely one of the most beautiful metaphors I have ever heard in song. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but it is exactly this type of metaphor that makes my soul say, "Yes, I am lonely for One who I cannot see."

Keep writing, Alli.

~ D. Gibson
Waco, TX

luke said...

man do i love buechner. good ole fred. have you read telling the truth? that is my favorite of his that i've read, but they all really are so good. that's fun to know that about this song.

Angela Hart said...

Hi Alli,

I just ran across your blog via another friends blog. Buechner is a favorite author of mine as well and funny, I just mentioned him in a posting last night! I appreciate the the lens by which you see and look forward to listening to your music. I'm going to put you on my "must read" blogs... also, I've been a huge fan of John Mayer's blog and was interested in what you wrote in regards to his last (possibly final?) post. Have a great day and thanks again for your thoughtful renderings!! Angela Hart