Anne Lamott is maybe one of my favorite female theologians…even if she may never consider herself to be one. I recently finished the book ‘Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith’ and found myself soaking in the stories, images, and words, as if it were food in my belly after a glorious feast. The stories are relatively short, sometimes ‘edgy’ withing Christian circles, and filled with memorable characters that all have a part to play in her understanding of the Divine in this world.
I realize that some people may think that the content of some of these stories is inappropriate at times (I’ve been accused of this myself at times), this is what makes her who she is as a woman, as a human, as a Christian. It’s within these flaws and poor behaviors that God’s grace is truly communicated for the reader, and ultimately received in one’s own life.
I’m especially drawn to her stories about life in church (surprise, surprise!) as she shares with us her own cautions, ups and downs, and ultimately identity as a Christian. The church she mentions in Marin City reminds me of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park, Illinois. I miss this church. I was only there for an academic year, but it has left an impact on me that will remain. Pilgrim is a smaller church in membership, housed within a fabulous old structure with a beautiful sanctuary. While there weren’t necessarily many programs or flashy worship services, what I remember most are the members. Each one was such an individual, and for some reason, they all seemed to have a place. It’s a place where everyone is welcome. And not like ‘all are welcome,’ and then when an oddball shows up everyone is cold and unfriendly to them–but EVERYONE is welcome. And even in my short time there, I was able to sit and listen to stories of trials and tribulations, hopes and dreams, and share in some great stories myself as we prayed, studied, had fun, and walked together in faith.
Pilgrim Congregational Church is not perfect place. There are fights, bad memories, continuing struggles, just like so many of our communities today. And Anne Lamott also is not perfect, nor is her worshiping congregation. But I think that’s the point. Somehow, even amidst the imperfection, God is there. Even as we continue to take two steps forward and one step back in our own lives, God is there. And in my own opinion, it’s during those steps ‘back’ that we are more freely able to receive God’s grace, and in so doing, share in the Good News of God’s saving love.
[Grace] is unearned love-the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there. (p.139)