Mark Buchanan, Things Unseen

Mark Buchanan, Things Unseen

Continuing to read my way through books left to me by my predecessor I recently read, former Duncan New Life Baptist Minister, Mark Buchanan’s Things Unseen (2002). It might be a little long in the tooth at tthings unseenhis point but it’s no less relevant for that! Mark puts into words feelings that I have long felt but lacked the right vocabulary for.

There you are, standing at a window watching oak leaves flutter down from dark boughs, and without warning your whole body fills with a longing for something you can’t name, something you’ve lost but never had, that you’re nostalgic for yet don’t remember.

Who hasn’t been there? Who hasn’t stood in a moment and wondered at what was missing? Passages like this one tell me that Mark knows exactly what it is like to hold an infant child looking out at a peaceful street in the exact neighborhood you want to live in and think So this is all there is and to feel horrible for the thought. Mark knows what it is like to realize one ought to be grateful and yet there is a nagging longing for something more, something else. 

Buchanan puts this into biblical context and relies on an old image given to us by C.S. Lewis who argued that we know there is something called food, or at least feeling full, when we are hungry because in that moment we feel the gap and intuitively know the gap can be filled. Just so we know there is a place called heaven, or the presence of God because we long so for it. The longing, according to Lewis and Buchanan, proves the reality of the thing longed for.

I’m not certain about the logic but it sure feels right, doesn’t it?

Buchanan doesn’t let the advertisers off the hook, Consumerism teaches us not to value things too much, but to value them too little. We forget how to treasure and to savor. The pressure of constant wanting dissipates all gratitude. The weight of restless craving plunders all enjoyment writes Buchanan. And there is truth to this as well. As a former bookstore owner and lover of poetry and the written word I have longed been angry at Amazon, not just for how they treat employees and hoover up money from all over the place and playing a role in destroying local economies, but because they have taught us not to value literature. We want it fast and cheap we want our writers to pump out books at rates that guarantee mediocre writing. Certainly part of always feeling that something is missing is due to this sort of complex.

Yet, even more than that, as Buchanan argues poignantly and well, it is because we are meant to be in the presence of God. If we long for that bit more it’s not just because Hollywood or Wall Street have lead us to long for more, it’s because we aren’t just made for life as it presents itself here on earth, we are made for more. He does so with a slow calm voice that I was more than happy to allow as my tour guide.