In his latest collection of essays, sermons, and addresses, Frederick Buechner writes: "Pay Attention. As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that. And as a talisman or motto for the journey in search of a homeland, which is what faith is, I would settle for that too." The book is titled The Clown in the Belfry.

According to Buechner, paying attention enables us to perceive "the doors that holiness enters through." These doors can be the literature of Flannery O'Connor, a serious film such as Gandhi, the feelings of loss at the death of a friend, or the struggles of growing up. God is speaking to us in our experiences, Buechner contends, and it's up to us to stay alert.

In a piece called "Adolescence and the Stewardship of Pain. Buechner muses on the parable of the talents in the Gospel of St. Matthew. He talks about the challenge of being good stewards of pain — making the most out of the anguish and suffering that comes our way. This makes sense given the author's characterization of the scriptures as "a Dostoyesvskian world of darkness and light commingled, where suffering is sometimes redemptive and sometimes turns the heart to stone." We can't control our destiny but we can transmute what happens to us into a rewarding life lesson.

The Clown in the Belfry is an edifying and illuminating read. Turn your contemplation of it into a spiritual exercise, and you are bound to be surprised by joy.