Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
This book can be best described as a jumble of random events in Lamott’s life where she has found faith, God, and beauty. Almost every story began with me wondering, “What does this have to do with anything?” or “Where is she going with this?” Yet, by the time each story ended, I felt like I had received a little glimpse of God. Lamott has an unbelievable ability to find the beauty or the divine in ordinary, or even miserable, events. She has eyes into the kingdom of God as it is present on earth, and it is a breath of fresh air to be a part of that understanding.
The book begins with an overture, introducing the rest of the book, called “Lily Pads.” This overture explains her background and upbringing in a non-religious household with fiercely liberal and vehemently non-Christian parents. Again, she tells random stories to paint us a picture of her childhood: her getting picked on for her looks, her best friend’s abusive Catholic dad, playing tennis as a teenager, etc. In college, she studied English, Philosophy, and Religion with no plans to graduate. She did however smoke, drink, and participate in activism. She started believing in God when she read about Abraham and Isaac in Kierkegard’s Fear and Trembling in one of her English courses…but by this time, she was already an alcoholic. She writes about her two brothers, her father’s brain tumor and death, the married man she started sleeping with after that, and hitting the bottom of her alcoholism with her abortion and drunken recovery.
At some point, she starts going to a local Presbyterian church. At first she attended just for the music but she felt this “persistent presence” that she eventually had to let in—surprise: it was Jesus. She got baptized one year after she started to get sober. Two years later she had her son Sam, who she began to raise with her best friend Pammy. She explains the overwhelming grief she felt, and tried to help Sam through, when Pammy died from her cancer. In all of this pain, joy, grief, and love, she found a home somewhere along the way. That home was her church. She describes it like this, “No matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, and hear their tawny voices, I can always find my way home.”
In the twenty-four chapters that follow, Lamott paints us many different pictures about her life, her faith, her family, her failures, and everything in between. As previously stated, it is probably too disjointed to really provide a good synopsis of the book. However, I would like to share one of the stories she writes about. She shares a story about a time that she got to go on a book tour with Grace Paley. She was someone that Lamott had looked up to all her life as a feminist icon, because she was able to be a multi-faceted woman: beautiful and powerful, mother and worker, strong and pacifist, and so many other things. They were scheduled to do two stops together, two nights in a row. They producers wanted them to each read from their work and then give prepared speeches from the podium. Lamott pitched the idea that, instead, they share a candid and improvised conversation on stage. She says that Grace was fine but she bombed: frantic, shrill, long-winded, etc. Her failure overwhelmed her and at first she wallowed, but then she figured something out. She says this, “I’d figured out the gift of failure, which is that it break through all that held breath and isometric tension about needing to look good: it’s the gift of feeling floppier…[and] sitting with all that vulnerability, I discovered that I could ride it.”
She says that the story about her and Grace was, at the end of it all, about grace. There is some amazing thing called grace that God just lays down on us sometimes. Lamott describes this grace in this way:
“I do not understand at all the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. It can be received gladly or grudgingly….It is the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you…It is unearned love—the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.”
The style with which Anne Lamott writes may feel strange, disjointed, or unorganized to some. However, I find her writing style to be beautifully mosaic. It is a glimpse inside the minds of people like her, and like me, who are scattered-brained and constantly recalculating things, but also uniquely able to see beauty in many areas of life. She can take a simple story, like what happened with her and Grace Paley, and delve into immense and deep concepts like the many of the grace that God provides us. She has a beautiful mind and writing style, surely that was graciously given to her by God.
One topic that Lamott writes on well is sin and forgiveness. Sin can be a big theological issue to tackle. It can be approached in very poor ways meant to shame, guilt, or coerce people into lifestyle changes. All too often, the purpose for these changes are based on personal preference of living, not on scripture or the will of God. Anne Lamott begins her chapter on forgiveness by stating plainly, “They say we are not punished for the sin but by the sin, and I began to feel punished by my unwillingness to forgive.” This is a statement of immense depth, humility, and wisdom. All too often, we are told that God is punishing us for some sin we have committed. Or we are told that God will punish us for our sins, one day. Just wait! However, it seems that God does not necessarily need to punish us—we are punishing ourselves. Lamott goes on to hilariously share the story of the most stellar mom in her sons first grade class. This mom was horrible, in her eyes. She was always overdoing it. The mom was judgmental of her life style and her son. The mom was always making petty comments about her appearance, her politics, her whatever.
Then one day when she was picking up her son from a playdate at this woman’s house, Lamott had a breakthrough. She was getting her kids shoes ready when she looked over in this woman’s sons’s shoes to see what size they were. She wanted to see how they lined up to her own son’s shoe size. Then it hit her. She was the craxy one. She was the one who was insecure about her son’s grade and her physical appearance. Lamott says this, “I was trying to get her to carry all of this for me because it hurt too much to carry it myself.” This mom had offered her tea, taken care of her son, and given her abundant forgiveness already. Lamott realized by refusing to love this woman, to forgive her for whatever “wrongs” she had done, she was only hurting herself. She was holding hate inside of her body and she was refusing to let herself heal from the insecurities that she was placing upon herself. Her sins of anger, mistrust, and unwillingness to forgive were all consuming. Who knows is she is right about all of it? Maybe God does punish us. Maybe God will punish us all heavily one day. But she is right about one thing…why should we punish ourselves in the meantime? When we let go of sin, we let God fill up more space in our lives. We stop punishing ourselves and we accept the weird mysterious grace that God has offered us all.