Out of the depths

In the early days at Trinity, Lou Patrick took opportunities to travel to conferences to learn and study the works of current theologians. It was on one of these sabbaticals that Lou Patrick heard about an ordained Presbyterian minister and writer named Frederick Buechner; afterward, he began introducing the members of the congregation to Buechner’s works. Lou enlisted Goldie Stribling, Betty McLancey, and ultimately Tony Abbott to help frame a reading of Buechner’s words from his The Alphabet of Grace for the 1973 Montreat Retreat. It was successful, so much so that Tony Abbott used the presentation at Davidson soon after. Also, thereafter, the relationship between Fred Buechner’s writings and the Charlotte community became so symbiotic that at one time in those decades more Fred Buechner’s books were sold in the Charlotte, NC, region than in any other area of the country. One winter’s day in the early 1970s. GOldie Stribling read an advertisement in The Christian Century magazine about a lecture taking place in January in Bangor, Maine, with Frederick Buechner as guest speaker. Goldie said to her friend Lou, “You’d be chicken not to go!” And so, Lou went on that dare, taking with him a leather pouch prepared by Goldie and Betty McLaney and filled with the same items Native American Herman Redpath carried around his neck in Frederick Buechner’s 1974 novel Lion Country: a bird’s wing, a box of Sunmaid raisins, a pocketknife, a few $10 bills of play Monopoly money. Lou flew to Bangor, and, in-between lectures, he saw Fred Buechner sitting in an anteroom. Lou walked by and heaved the leather pouch into the empty chair next to Buechner. Upon opening it, Buechner knew he needed to meet the man who went to the trouble of assembling the pouch (although Goldie Stribling and Betty McLaney had done the work!) Then and there began a friendship that lasted until Lou’s death. What drew these two ordained Presbyterian ministers together? Fred Buechner has documented in many of his own writings the effects on his life of the death by suicide of his father when he was ten years old. Perhaps these two Presbyterian Ministers of the Word were drawn together because they shared a sense of loss with regard to their fathers. Perhaps it was because they shared the experience of being under the teachings of many of the same professors and writers because they both went to seminary. Maybe it was their shared sense of humor, and, because of it, they could laugh together when they were together, which was not often enough for either of them. Perhaps it was the shared belief that no matter how deep the darkness of the human condition could be, God was with them in that darkness, calling unto them as only deep can call unto deep. I think both of these men would say, like the young girl on the way to the guillotine, “I believe God sent you to me.” That belief bound them, made the darkness a little less dark at that place where “Deep calls unto Deep.” Fred and Lou both knew of deep loss, but they also felt the abiding love of God. They were not afraid of this calling from God, for they believed that humans cry “Out of the depths” just like the poet in Psalm 131. Fred dedicated his memoir The Sacred Journey to Lou. It reads, “For Louis Patrick and all the other saints, remembered and forgotten, along the way.” Fred Buechner and Lou Patrick each gave to the other an understanding. What was understood? That you have to stalk the gaps in the rock to find the mystery.

From “Deep Calls Unto Deep: Reflections on the intersecting lives and writings of Fred Buechner, Tony Abbott, and Louis Patrick”