Anne Lamott

I know that I'm way, way late to this party, but Jana and I just discovered Anne Lamott. I'd always heard of Anne Lamott. Always seen her books in bookstores, always heard friends describe her as one of their favorite authors. But I'd never picked up a book of hers.

On our family vacations--the Beck's are big on road trips, we drive thousands of miles a summer--Jana and I like to listen to audio books. Before the big summer trip I go to all three branches of our local public libraries and clear them out. And this year I grabbed a copy of Anne Lamott's book Grace (Eventually).

We were blown away.

(To be sure I suspect that conservative and evangelical Christians will have some problems with Lamott. So fair warning on that.)

A few weeks ago I was describing William Stringfellow's notion that the essential part of the Christian witness is being a sacrament of life in the midst of death's works. If Stringfellow is the theologian of this notion (for me) I think Lamott might be the poet of the idea. That's what I loved about her writing, how she finds sacraments of life in the world. A world by turns mundane, crazy, and broken--but in the end life-affirming. There is grace...eventually.

My favorite essay in this collection is "Dance Class," a story of her going with a friend to help with a dancing class for special needs persons, many with Down's Syndrome. Before the actual dancing there was a time of sharing. Anne describes the thirst of the class to share, even the littlest and most insignificant things. It's a craving we all have. To be heard. Noticed.

As helpers Anne and her friend are asked by those in the class to participate, to dance with them. And they do. They dance.

The class ends. The final paragraphs of the essay:
And then it was time to go. People shook our hands and thanked us. The gymnast gave me a hug with her head pressed into my waist. Neshama and I left feeling elated and surprisingly tired. It had been only an hour, but it was an immersion. It went deeper than I had thought.

When Karen and I were hiking a few days later, she told me that after class, one of the dancers had exclaimed, "I liked those old ladies! They were helpers, and they danced." These are the words I want on my gravestone: that I was a helper, and that I danced.
That about sums it up for me. I want the same thing on my gravestone.

That I was helper, and that I danced.

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27 thoughts on “Anne Lamott”

  1. Beautiful!  Anne Lamott delights me as well, and articulates much of what I struggle to express -- in word and deed.  She's authentic, to be sure.  I absolutely *love* Anne Lamott!

    My small (women's) group has been meeting informally this summer, just a few of us, to discuss Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.  In fact, I purchased all three of Anne's books on faith and life when I ordered TM.  I had read the three several months ago -- borrowed copies from the library.  Possibly my favorite chapter in TM is "Gypsies."  It is about dancing, too; but also about being a woman and living through all of the stages and transitions one experiences.  And in true feminist form, about young, old, and in between embracing and celebrating the beauty in each of us, at different seasons.

    So many good chapters (essays) in Traveling Mercies, though...  Did you read that book yet?

    I'm skimming through to catch my underlining and notes, and found this in the chapter titled "Hearthcake:"

    "So we had smoothies, with bananas, which I believe to be the only known cure for existential dread."

    My note in the margin reads, "God as Jewish-mother -- Jim731  :-)  "

    Wherever you are now, Jim731, thank you, kind friend.  I have not forgotten the way that you helped.

    Dance, then, wherever you may be
    I am the lord of the dance said he
    And I lead you all wherever you may be
    And I lead you all in the dance said he

    (the refrain to my new favorite hymn, "Lord of the Dance")

    Blessings to you, Dr. Beck, and to Jana.  ~Peace~

  2. LOVE Anne Lamott.  14 years ago this month, my brother gave me her book "Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year".  My firstborn was 2 months old and I was ragged with exhaustion, frustration and laundry!  This book made me laugh, cry, and laugh again - it got me through those first few crazy months!  I have read all her non-fiction and really appreciate her spiritual and religious journey.   While I am not Christian, as a religious and spiritual person I love her stories and her experiences with the Divine.  I often quote from her books when teaching Torah and what it means to be a spiritual Jew.  I think we can learn from people of all faiths.

  3. I too have in the past received tremendous understanding help from Jim731.  I hope he is happy and well. 

    On happy discoveries, yesterday I was doing more reading on St. Teresa of Avila, and in the process came across a composer and pianist named Wayne Gratz.  A circuitous route, but fruitful in more ways than one.        Enjoy.

  4. Three favorite Anne Lamott quotes:

    "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

    "I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish."

    "Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die."

    I love Anne Lamott.

  5. I love Anne Lamott's work (this will probably not surprise you). She's so honest and funny and real. I particularly love her book on writing, Bird by Bird, and her assertion that there are really only two prayers: "help me, help me, help me" and "thank you, thank you, thank you."

  6. Great quotes.

    What I like about Anne is her confessional honesty, that she's a Christian but not a very good one. I think we need to make t-shirts and bumper stickers along those lines:

    "Christian. But Not a Very Good One."

    That sums me up.

  7. ((Sam)) -- Thank you.  It is lovely -- both the music and the poignant imagery.  You are such a blessing, and I am grateful every day that our paths intersected here and right on time.  ~Peace, friend.

  8. You have to wonder if Paul Simon reads Anne Lamott, because one of the songs on his latest album, "So Beautiful or So What" includes that "help me...thank you" prayer.

  9.  As a person who never has a bumper sticker on his vehicle, I would put that one on.

  10. Even though I haven't read her, it means a lot to me that you added a modern woman to the long list of mostly men  

    I feel more trust and respect for a man who is willing to admit that he has learned from a woman...

  11. I, also, have never gotten around to reading Anne Lamott. That will now change. That was beautiful. Thanks.

  12. Paul Simon still makes albums?  Who knew?  Does he include in it his song "American Tune"?  I liked S & G a lot as a teen, but always maintained that the music to that song is identical to an old hymn called "O, Sacred Head, Now Wounded".  I could never get anyone else to hear what I was hearing, and it drove me crazy for years. 

    When I listen to them now, many of his songs seem depressing.  I was happy when he discovered African music.

  13. Dear Patricia, as I have contemplated the two thoughts that you expressed here, I am more aware than ever of the beautiful spirit of this community.  Each "voice" is unique and valuable.  I am grateful for every one of you.

    I am always blessed by your words and presence, Patricia, and I miss you when you are "quiet."  You have added beauty and joy to my life.  In my heart, there will never be another whom I treasure exactly the same as I do you.

    Often, words of affirmation and gratitude are left unspoken.  Please know that you are so important and dear to me.  I am not the same for having met you.  You are a real friend and a true blessing.  Thank you for putting up with the likes of me.


  14. My facebook account has been deactivated for several months.  Are you there?  Having a friend like you could influence me to resurrect my account.

  15. Hi Richard. It's Kelly Wilson (Steve's wife). I've enjoyed your blog for a while now, just never comment. I guess that makes me a stalker of sorts. Anne Lamott's writing is a staple for me. I discovered her at a time in my life i might describe as "a crisis of belief" stage. I read both Traveling Mercies and Plan B at least twice a year. So much of her stuff comes back to me in my thoughts and meditation...pretty much on a daily basis. She speaks to that rebellious and frustrated side of me and helps me cope in ways that affirm who I am in Christ without feeling so desperate to change something in me. I'll never forget the first time I read where she referred to God as "she" was HUGE for me. I held on to that for a long time. I felt like Anne had shared a secret with me that day. She has inspired me to think about God and my practice of Christianity in ways no one else has or does. And guess what?? She has a new book coming out soon...I can't wait!! Thanks for sharing your new found appreciation of her with your readers. And blessings to you, Jana and your boys!

  16. There you go again......turning me on to writers I may have heard of but never really read. This blog is a blessing. Keep on helping.....and dancing, mostly with Jana!

  17. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is my favourite book about writing - I give a copy to all my doctoral students, and I read it again myself every so often. It's wonderful stuff.

  18. O:K, Patricia.  Thank you.  In a few days, you should be able to search and find me on FB with no difficulty.   Dance we shall!

    With all this talk about dancing, I couldn't help thinking of one of my all-time favorite Seinfeld episodes.  Laughter is good medicine...  This is potent stuff:

    I *am* Elaine!  (Except I am aware of my goofiness -- even worse!)

    Blessings, dear friend.  ~Peace~

  19. Love the video, Susan. I don't know how to find you on FB, though. You can find me, though. I'm Patricia Jones, in Abilene, TX, with the Water Gardens behind me in the pic. (I'll delete this info later today).

  20. My face is back on the social network; I am not finding you with a Water Gardens pic.  Do you have any idea how many people with your name are in TX?!  Holy cow.  My name will be easier to find.  What the hell -- if all else fails, find me.  My name is pretty unique.  Susan Namboodiri.  (I have no idea how to delete this comment, so the whole Richard Beck fan club is now privy to my name.  Hello!)  Hope we meet up on Facebook, Patricia.  :-)  ~Peace~

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