Books and Beyond
Last fall I saw Anne Lamott’s 2018 book title “Almost Everything: Notes on Hope” in the “New at the Library” feature in the Independent. I’ve read her books for years. “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith,” c 1999, was my first one. I think it was 20 years ago when friends and I went to her presentation at a church in St. Paul. She hasn’t quit writing books or speaking to groups. Plum Creek Library System has many of her titles — books and sound recordings.
In the acknowledgements for “Almost Everything,” Anne includes St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Marin City, California. When I looked at the online site for the church, I saw a picture of her with the confirmation class, and in her books she often refers to teaching Sunday School.
The church is very multicultural. I wish I could go there some Sunday morning. The choir director is African American, and they use a Presbyterian hymnal and an African American Heritage hymnal. The choir processes to the front to begin each Sunday morning worship and sings an anthem. Last December the church hosted a special workshop, Building a Vocal Community, taught by Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, and then offered a concert of songs from African American culture.
If I were to describe Anne’s writing to a person who’s never read her, I’d say get ready for a roller-coaster ride. This quote will tell you about her style:
How did the rest of us ever locate a spiritual bakery where we could actually find the bread of life, let alone the ginger cookies of hope. (p. 38)
I talked about Anne’s recent book at our Cottonwood January book club at Gwen Arneson’s. I also mentioned Krista Tippett. Her book I had checked out of the library is “Speaking of Faith,” c 2007. That used to be the name of the MPR program where she interviews a wide variety of men and women about their views of life. The program is still a weekly broadcast and now has the title “On Being.”
In her book she describes Anne Lamott’s books as “salty religious memoirs.” Tippett has just written about St. Augustine and Dietrich Boenhoeffer, and she says that Lamott is a contemporary example of what they do. I’d say that’s a compliment.
In each chapter of “Almost Everything,” Anne refers to authors she has read and other well-known people. Sometimes she gives a quote. Jesus is referred to many times, and so is Buddha. And here are just a few more names she refers to: T.S. Eliot, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Harry Potter, and Mary Oliver (who passed away on Jan. 17, 2019).
Anne writes of many experiences when she has been afraid, and how she can find hope to get her back into the way of life she is seeking. A Madeline L’Engle quote she gives us from “A Wrinkle in Time”: “Only a fool is not afraid.”
Another aspect I enjoy: she honestly tells stories about her family and friends and how their lives can be difficult. She had a rough time with an uncle, so she decided to apologize to him for her behavior. He forgave her, and their relationship was closer and happier. As he got older and was in the hospital, Anne visited him often. He invited her to go to the exercise room with him. Anne tells us it is grace that brought them close together.
In another chapter she writes that sometimes it’s a person near death who is open to all the good things in the world, and we can learn from them not to fear death.
“Writing” is the title of one of the 12 chapters. She teaches people — often children — about writing. “Paying attention is ninety percent of writing” (p. 87). “Stories hold us together” (p. 179).
Hope is the last chapter of this book. One morning when she is outdoors with a friend walking near the redwood trees by her house, they watch three cranes. The friends hug before they say goodbye. Being open to this experience in the present, which some people would consider meaningless, causes Anne’s hope to be restored: “Hope springs from that which is right in front of us” (p. 181).
Here is another quote that is worth remembering — from Ram Dass:
When all is said and done, we are all
Just walking each other home. (p. 109)