Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith is one of those books that came into by hands by chance right when I needed it. In other words, one of those many tiny miracles. I’ve dog-eared the heck out of it trying to mark great quotes and passages I want to find again. She bravely and humbly takes readers on an overview journey of her life, addiction, faith and single-motherhood. There’s humor and tears, grief and healing, joy and suffering.
She writes seriously about serious issues without ever taking herself seriously.
My friend like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian…. They think I am Christian-ish. But I’m not. I’m just a bad Christian.
Yeah, if only we all had the humility and courage to call ourselves “bad Christians.” Amen, sister. Can I come have coffee with you? I need a friend to be a bad Christian with. I doubt I’ll ever be able to call myself a good Christian, whatever that is, I haven’t meant one yet.
Before even finishing this book I quoted it in a post on grief. I needed to read her words on death and loss and separation. She is brutally honest about her own emotions and reactions and struggles. The sort of honesty that is healing and humorous all at once.
…I had had Sam, so I was able to tolerate a bit more mystery and lack of order. That’s one of the gifts kids give you, because after you have a child, things come out much less orderly and rational than they did before…. And then, weighing in at the approximate poundage of a medium honeydew melon, the proceed to wedge open your heart. (Also, they help you to see that you are as mad as a hatter and capable of violence just because Alvin and the Chipmunks are singing when you are trying to have a nice spiritual moment thinking about ashes.)
And I know that this hits on several truths all at once in just a few sentences. Kids not only are gifts but give endless, intangible gifts. Everyone with kids was once a childless person with an orderly, “rational” life. At some point we must all confront that terrible truth that every single one of us is capable of violence over silly things. It’s a much easier truth to deny when you live alone in a neat, orderly world. Kids help you see all sorts of things. Maybe it is possible to stumble into this awareness alone but I sure haven’t seen any examples of that. It takes relationships and interactions and a heart overflowing with love and cracked wide open to receive these insights. I loved her openness is discussing becoming a single-mother and the humbling nature of needing help.
I was usually filled with a sense of something like shame until I’d remember that wonderful line of Blake’s — that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love — and I would take a long deep breath and force these words out of my strangulated throat: “Thank you.”
Now I’m going to have to go read some Blake, too.
She has an entire chapter on forgiveness I would like to quote for you. It’s a struggle I know well. So she decides to start with an “easy” one, the mother of one of her son’s friends.
Then a few days later I was picking Sam up at the house of another friend and noticed a yellowed clipping taped to the refrigerator with “FORGIVENESS” written at the top — as though God had decided to abandon all efforts at subtlety and just plain noodge. The clipping said forgiveness meant that God is for giving, and that we are here for giving too, and that to withhold love or blessings is to be completely delusional.
I’ll let you read it yourself and find out how the tension resolves. It’s a great book, cover to cover, and well worth reading. Luckily I can keep this one to read over and over and keep dog-earing and underlining.