How do I love Anne Lamott? Let me count the zillions and billions of ways. She taught me how to parent with Operating Instructions and Some Assembly Required. She helped my writing with Bird by Bird and inspired me with her novels: Hard Laughter, Rosie, Joe Jones, Blue Shoe, All New People and Crooked Little Heart. She infuses comforting and thoughtful new life into all things spiritual with Traveling Mercies, Grace (Eventually) and her newest, the wonderful Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. But also, she's generous. She's got a heart the size of Jupiter, and when she agreed to interview me for the Algonquin Book Club webcast, she made sure it was a major league event. (And don't forget to check out this wonderful interview with Annie and the great Cheryl Strayed.) Also, she's the kind of person who reaches into her purse and gives you half a sandwich, who genuinely wants to know how you are and who really lives her life out loud and courageously. She's incredibly kind, warm, hilarious and I'm dazzled and honored that have the great fortune to know her. Huge thanks, Annie.
Can you talk about how your religious feelings have changed through the years? I find it fascinating that you grew up in a family of non-believers. Did that have any impact on your beliefs? And did you ever feel that you impacted their beliefs?
It's funny that I was raised in a non-believing family, because all 3 of us kids ended up being believers. I always believed in god, from my earliest memories, but I had to keep it secret. I found friends from religious families because I loved the prayer, church, acknowledgment of a divine presence. I was fed deeply by the spiritual love of my friends' families and religious practice--also I always loved Catholic food, esp Friday nights before Vatican 2.
One thing that was helpful about growing up with atheists, was I never had religious doctrine shoved down my throat, and never had anything I had to resist. I think one of my brothers was sort of horrified when I converted at 31...and then he became born again ten years later. My younger brother was always quietly adhering to the Catholic path, from friends he had at 20+. It's been 27 years since my baptism, and 26 years since I got sober, so you just KNOW my first year was a little loopy--but all that shame and pain softened the ground of me, so that I didn't fight against my blossoming faith all that had. Being sober and a church goer both drained off and transformed the shame and tremendous anxiety.
Tell us about the three kinds of prayers.
Help is the prayer of the desperate--someone really exhausted by his or her best efforts to fix/resolve a deep problem or a terrible fear. A good acronym for God is Gift of Desperation. It's the prayer of blessedly giving up, of surrender, which is the greatest condition for finding faith.
Thanks is that incredible feeling of gratitude, that you or your family cut a break; that somehow, against all odds, there was healing or progress or resolution--it's thankyouthankyouthankyou--that could have been SO much worse. Or I cannot BELIEVE that situation straightened itself out.
And Wow--amazement. Us when stunned by beauty or majesty or grateful disbelief.
I'm not aware of a prayer requesting proof--but am sure there are lots of them. It hasn't been a deal-breaker for me, that God is so often silent, or working through ordinary circumstance and people, instead of flaming bushes and tongues of fire, or a voice from above.
Do you think there is also a prayer that asks for proof of being heard by a higher power? (I admit that is one of my prayers, and it's probably a bad idea.)
I'm really glad to glean spiritual truth bit, by bit. Bird by bird. I'm fine proceeding on a need-to-know basis.
What I love so much is the calm, open way you present your belief and then invite everyone else to the banquet, not taking offense if they don't RSVP. I also love the way you talk about prayer, that it's a union, a going deeper. You talk about "the silence, pain and pause" that force you to turn inward, which is always hard. My big question is always, WHY is it always hard to do this? Why can't growth come from something easier?
My experience is that in "real" life, when we're busy and racing around being important or needed. We have so much armor on. So much of our energy goes into creating false fronts to keep people from knowing us too well, and being able to see our weakness or shadow or falsity. But when we are challenged to our core, we HAVE to peel off some armor, and layers, so that we can focus on what is true and real and therefore useful, instead of extraneous or protective. I hate this too. If I were God, I would have a MUCH easier and benevolent system.
I'm curious how you deal with the arguments about the not-so-great side of religion, where people use their beliefs to keep gay people from marrying, to keep women housebound and covered up, and like the Westboro Baptist Church, generally for hate. How do you even attempt to change the minds and hearts of people like that, and outside of their God coming back to earth and telling them to cut it out, do you ever see this rigidity of belief changing?
I never try to get people to change their minds about religion or politics. It just makes everyone crazier than they/we already were. I totally understand why people feel appalled by most organized religion. I do, too. But at my hour of my drastic need, I feel like God picked me up by the scruff of my neck, and brought me to St. Andrew--it's VERY disorganized, and there are about 25 of us, and I have witnessed the greatest beauty and tenderness and sacrifice in the chairs and homes of St. Andrew. Most fundamentalists of every stripe are deeply wounded and damaging to peace and goodness. I just try to help God take care of His or Her other kids who come into my sights or awareness-ii get all thirsty people water. I try to be a good listener. I try to keep things simple, because my mind is so complex and wild and fearful and grandiose and brimming with bad self-esteem. I really have plenty on my hands with me and my nearest and dearest.
Would you say that love is a prayer?
Love is sacred. God is Love. Love is where we feel most blessed and blown away--and vulnerable. Where we literally tremble with devotion and fear. I don't have great theological insight, but I think a lot of love is love--and that prayer involves more of an intentionality to communicate or hook into something bigger than our human minds and self-contained lives.
Do you ever doubt?
I have terrible and scary nights like everyone who loves their family more than life itself. I don't seem to give up on God and Goodness at those times, but I DO feel more strongly that this incarnational life SO hard--life can just be impossible and cruel. This place has not been a good match for me! I get furious at God when kids and young people get sick. But I always know that it will pass, and transform into blessing, healing, understanding, compassion...eventually. The "eventually" is the real fly in the ointment.
What's obsessing you now?
Oh, you know--the usual. My son, my grandson, my butt, the election. Survivor. The Good Wife. Global warming; how the new book will do....Sigh.