Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Anne Lamott--I love you

"My pastor, Veronica, one Sunday told a story of a sparrow lying in the street with its legs straight up in the air...A warhorse walks up to the bird and asks, 'What are you doing?' The sparrow replies, 'I heard the sky is falling, and I wanted to help.' The horse laughs a big, loud, sneering horse laugh, and says, 'Do you really think you're going to hold back the sky, with those scrawny little legs?' And the sparrow says, 'One does what one can.' "     --Anne Lamott, Stitches

I've never met Anne Lamott--so don't think I am some kind of aging groupie. Well, maybe I am. But I got hooked on her writing several years ago when I discovered Traveling Mercies. The book just blew me away and the story of her pilgrimage toward faith was something to read. And--her love for her Church and her Pastor can be seen in almost everything she has written. In fact one of her books she dedicates to her church and Pastor: St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in  Marin County, California and Pastor Veronica Goines. Another book she dedicates to the kids in that church. And in a third volume she mentions in the Introduction her love for St. Andrew and its Pastor.

I've pushed her books on many folk and if I took out my Anne Lamott illustrations from sermons there would be a whole lot of gaps. She is that good. Coming from a very hard living background and having been around the block more times than I know--there is not a pious bone in her body. But she talks in creative and different ways about how faith has been her lifeline. Years ago she wrote a book about the first year of her son's life called Operating Instructions, as we have all discovered, s we know these babies don't come with directions.

Lately she has written two small books which I have loved. Help, Thanks ,Wow is a book about prayer. She says these three prayers are essential when we pray. I yelled at my friend at church the other night across the room and said, "You gotta read this book on Prayer--you'll love it." I could quote whole passages that have warmed my heart. But one I remember. She is praying for her friend's daughter, Angie who has small children and has been diagnosed with an aggressive lung cancer. Even with chemo the cancer keeps raging in her body. This is Anne's prayer:

photo by Abigail Thomas
"I hold this family in Your light. I pray for them to get their miracle, and to have stamina, for them to be Okay today, for their love and amazing senses of humor to help them come through, although if You have a minute, I'd like to know: What on earth could You be thinking?"

Her most recent volume is another small book. It's called Stitches. And the subtitle is: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair. A friend of mine believes that God sends us books when we need them. I  believe this just might be the case with Stitches. I don't know why it struck such a chord but she asks the hard questions yet again: What do we do when life lurches out of balance? How can we reconnect with one another when the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket? So--she helps us find meaning and peace in these loud, frantic times. She says we have to begin by reaching out and collecting the ripped shreds of our emotional and spiritual fabric and piecing them back together one stitch at a time. We can all weave something beautiful and powerful out of the stuff of our lives.

I read this book during that hard time when I was leading a circle of grief in a support group. A fourteen year old who died in an accident. A beautiful young woman who just killed herself one day. Another suicide of a twenty five year old. The parents of a mother in middle age who died and left three children for the grandparents to try to help. There were wives that lost husbands and husbands that lost wives. And as I tried to help them--Anne's book helped me.

Here are some of the passages: "The bad news if that after the suffering, we wait at the empty tomb for a while, the body of our  beloved gone, grieving an unsurvivable loss."

"We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky. If you fixated on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching. And maybe the stitching is crude, or it is unraveling, but if it were precise, we'd pretend that life was just fine and running like a Swiss watch."

She writes about all the years she spent in AA and what she learned. "They taught me that maturity was the ability to live with unresolved problems. They taught me that truth was not going to fit on a bumper sticker, much as I would have liked."

So as I drove my car down to m Support group week after week--I remembered some of the feelings I had when I read both books. But especially Stitches. We take our stuff and we mend it--and neighbors and friends help us if we're lucky. It is really a lifetime job. But if you stay with the little picture: the tears, the awful unfairness of your loved one's death--the cancer that will not go away--you find in it--not above it--but in it--enough faith and hope and love to keep you going.

Read for yourself. It might just help you with your prayers and with all the little pieces of your life you are still trying to piece together.

Anne, I'm sure you'll never read this. But there is one retired preacher in South Carolina that you have helped immensely.

photo by katachthonios

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