Thursday, December 19, 2013

December's Book: Stitches, A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott

I love Anne Lamott! 
Early in her new book, Stitches A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, Anne Lamott writes about the Sunday School class she teaches, and I think how I would have loved being in her class when I was a kid, even though she is forever making her class do art projects using coffee filters. I don't remember one of my Sunday School teachers, which makes me sad, but I suspect Anne Lamott's students will remember her. 
            If something awful has occurred, I ask the kids at
         Sunday School if they want to talk about what has
         happened, or if they would rather make art. 
            One hundred percent of the time, they would rather
         make art.
            We always begin by lighting a candle, although
         we have switched to an electric light in a votive
         holder instead of actual wax, because once someone
         in the class managed to singe the ends of her hair on a
         real candle.
             Then we pray to try to be good and kind to one another.
         We read a short passage of Scripture, talk about it and 
          try to learn something together about our lives and God's
          love. And then, as in all great religious traditions, we

I love Anne Lamott. 

The Rush of a New Anne Lamott Book
As I opened her new book while still tucked in bed, I promised myself I would not race to the end of the book. Why are there only 96 pages? If I read this slim volume in its entirety this morning then how long will I have to wait till there is another new Anne Lamott book? 

I remember the excitement each time a new Harry Potter book was published and the push-pull of hardly breathing while reading it, but not wanting it to end either, and therefore be in that never-never land of waiting for the next one. I tell myself to slow down. Slow down.

I envision the other Anne Lamott books on my bookshelf with the most recent being Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, which is longer than the new book, a whopping 102 pages. What does this mean? Will each book get shorter and shorter until she doesn't write at all?

I tell myself I can reread these earlier books, and I suspect they will still feel fresh and thought-provoking. I can pretend I am reading them for the first time. In the meantime there is this new book.

The Anne Lamott Mystique
What is it about Anne Lamott? Years ago I heard Lamott speak in Cleveland at a large church on the campus of Case Western University. I attended with friends who were also Lamott Lovers, and I can still recall standing outside before the doors were open. We were as eager to hear her, see her as teenage girls anticipating a rock concert. She did not disappoint. I have no memory of exactly what she said, but it was her zest for life, for the God she loves and who challenges her every bit as much as she challenges God in return. 

I love her sacred irreverence, her impious holiness. It is not just that she tells things like it is, that she is funny, but more than that, she is willing to look at life, her life and the ongoing life of the world, as if everything has meaning to be explored and applied. Nothing is too big or too small. Everything is serious, and nothing is too serious. She holds it all in her heart and then--and oh how glad I am--she shares it. 

From Help, Thanks, Wow

         We can pray for things ("Lord, won't you buy me a 
      Mercedes-Benz"). We can pray for people ("Please heal
      Martin's cancer." "Please help me not be such an asshole."). 
      We may pray for things that would destroy us; as Teresa of
      Avila said, "More tears are shed over answered prayers than 
      unanswered ones." We can pray for a shot at having a life 
      in which we are present and awake and paying attention and
      being kind to ourselves. We can pray, "Hello? Is there 
      anyone there? We can pray, "Am I too far gone, or can you
      help me get out of my isolated self-obsession?" We can
      say anything to God. It's all prayer. 

          I am very strong on blame, and wish this were one of 
      God's values, but trust, surrender? Letting go, forgive-
      ness? Maybe just after a period of prayer, but then when
      the mood passes and real life rears its ugly head again? 
      Not so much. I hate this, the fact that life is usually
      Chutes and Ladders, with no guaranteed gains. 
           I cannot talk myself into having these qualities, so I
       have to pray for them more often, if I want to be happy.
       I have to create the habit, just as I had to do with daily
       writing and flossing. 

I tell myself to refrain from highlighting as I read, but instead just read slowly, calmly, letting her words flow over and through me. I tell myself I can go back and reread and then highlight what I want to copy into my journal for further savoring and reflection. 
That only lasts so long--until page 5.
           What if you wake up at sixty and realize that you forgot
         to wake up, and you never became the person you were
         born to be, and now your hair is falling out?...Oh, honey,
         buckle up. It gets worse. 

Once I give into the temptation, and like eating potato chips, I don't stop at just one, the first chapter is soon filled with orange lines to say nothing of additional orange dots on the sheets. I am not only a messy eater, but also a messy reader. For sure, it is not worth it for me to buy expensive sheets. 

            ...most of us have figured out that we have to do what's
          in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches
          after oil spills. We rebuild whole towns after hurricanes
          and tornadoes. We return calls and library books. We get
          people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we 
          choose the good action or response, the decent, the
          valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection,
          the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is:
          life, death resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so
          you make casseroles for your neighbor, organize an
          overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry. You can 
          also offer to do other people's laundry, if they have
          recently had any random babies or surgeries.
             We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky. (p.13)

The morning I started reading Stitches I told myself to stop at the end of chapter one. It was 7 o'clock, and I had a long To Do list, but Bruce had the day off, and he had fallen back asleep while reading in his den chair. I didn't want to wake him. "Go ahead," I reassured myself, "Read Chapter 2."

An Invitation
Who are the spiritual rock stars in your life? Whose books do you reread as you wait for a new one to appear? If you are an Anne Lamott fan, send me your favorite quotes. As always, I look forward to your comments and questions. 


  1. Books teach us a lot about what other people experience and how their philosophy of life differs from another. Yet all spiritual authors seek answers to higher truths and that in itself is a quest worth pondering about.

    Book on Spirituality

    1. How true, and I am so grateful for the diversity of experience and thought available to all of us who seek.


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