Grace (eventually): Thoughts on faith
Anne Lamott (2007, Riverhead Books)
In this, her third (or fifth, depending on how you look at it) volume about her adventures in faith and fear, Anne Lamott reports on another few laps of her spiritual journey. Her son, Sam, is now a teenager, and she's not allowed to talk much about him, but of course she does; also about her friends and their biopsies, her addiction-ridden California town and her aging body.
I'm interested in Lamott's view of aging, as it happens to us all. She thinks that we are, at any time, all the ages we've ever been. "I'm very glad to claim the crone who is coming to life within me. I just don't want her to screech so loudly that she silences the little girl who is still around, drowns out the naughty teenager, or mutes the flirtatious middle-aged woman." It's a view that can lead to compassion, and joy. Looking at pictures of her younger selves, more beautiful than she could believe at the time, she asks, "Why did it take me so long to discover what a dish I was? ...And how crazy would you have to be, knowing this, yet still not rejoicing in your current looks?"
With her church, she visits a nursing home to sing hymns and hug people, and brings her son along; with another friend, she helps out at a dance class with the developmentally disabled. This is material not everyone could pull off without making me feel manipulated as a reader, but Lamott can, because she takes gives equal attention to the details of the situation that are awkward, sad, and funny: "One of the men was huge and reminded me of somebody behind a butcher counter: sweaty, with a moustache disorder, a big gut, a baseball cap." It turns out you can't be a helper without dancing, yourself. "Then you do a pivot turn. It's surprisingly hard. I couldn't do it right. I cheated. I just turned. My entire childhood flashed before my eye: trying and failing to learn cheerleading moves, water ballet, chemistry."
The ability to confess a thing like that is the wellspring of Lamott's humor, and of her spirituality. The bumps and boulders of her path become the material of forgiveness and acceptance, with a healthy quota of resistance: "It wasn't until her death that my mother stopped exhausting me. Then I didn't forgive her for a while. All her friends and a few relatives hassled me to let it go, to forgive. But I did it my way, slowly, badly, authentically...."
This is authentic spirituality, like a raw carrot with the dirt still on it. It makes me twitch less than the fluffy pink kind, and I'm grateful for it once again.
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