Tag Archives: Anne Lamott

Wow.

It’s just a few days prior to his death, and he knows it’s coming along with betrayal by those closest to him, mockery, and agony.  And yet he ties a towel around his waist, fills a basin with water, and stoops close to the ground and the filth and the earth to wash the disciples’ feet.

If that doesn’t fill you with awe, I don’t know what will.

In her latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott writes, “Even though I remember my pastor saying that God always makes a way out of no way, periodically something awful happens, and I think that God has met Her match–a child dies or a young father is paralyzed.  Nothing can possibly make things okay again.  People and grace surround the critically injured person or the family.  Time passes.  It’s beyond bad.  It’s actually a nightmare.  But people don’t bolt, and at some point the first shoot of grass breaks through the sidewalk.”

Lamott could easily have been writing a prayer of the help or thanks genre, but she’s actually describing the wow.  The wow is not that bad things don’t happen, because they do.  The wow is that “people don’t bolt” during the “beyond bad.”

My Chinese teacher translating for Chen Guangcheng at Princeton University yesterday afternoon.
My Chinese teacher translating for Chen Guangcheng at Princeton University yesterday afternoon.

Last night my husband and I went to hear blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, speak on the Princeton University campus.  He told his story of working for justice in China, his famous escape to the U.S. embassy, the lesser told tale of his family’s continued persecution, and the gory details of his nephew’s beating and imprisonment following his asylum in the United States.  While the reality of human rights abuses in China is rife with suffering, fear, and pain, Mr. Chen’s family, other activists in China, and many around the world haven’t given up.

Wow.

Over the last few days the internet has been flooded by photos of Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of inmates at a juvenile detention facility.  The new pope’s far from perfect, and his actions might not change the world, but the images move us because they speak of what it means to regard the humanity of one another in situations that are “beyond bad.”

Pope Francis kissing inmates' feet.
Pope Francis kissing inmates’ feet.

Wow.

When you really think about it Holy Week, so artfully named, was “beyond bad.”  There was really nothing good about good Friday, and there is nothing more nightmarish than the death of God.

But even in death God hasn’t met Her match.  Sometimes we forget, though, that it came to that–that death was gory for Jesus, that it was pain, and the earth plunged into darkness–that simply put, we can’t have the resurrection, the wow, the shoots of grass, without the “beyond bad,” the nightmare of the crucifixion that delivers us from sin and death.

And with all that was yet to come, he went willingly to his death.  Yet, before doing so he took their feet in his holy hands and scrubbed them like a servant.  That’s what our savior did with some of his last moments on this earth.

Sunrise in New Jersey.
Sunrise in New Jersey.

Wow.

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Why we pray

Sometimes it seems as though the world is so saturated with pain and heartache and disease and fear that it might burst.  

It’s in those moments that we put our hands together, we bow our heads, we bend our knees.  If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we do it less out of faith and more out of desperation and perhaps a little bit out of habit.  We go to God to find solace from the scary world, to test that God is still there, to cry out to someone who we want so boldly to trust, cares.

If you’re like me, you may have circles of friends who aren’t people of faith.  Do you pray for them, too?  Do you tell them?

The Giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
The Giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. All photos by Evan Schneider.

Despite my shoddy track record as an evangelist, I almost always do.  I almost always tell them that I’m thinking of them, that I’m praying for them, and of course, being a former seminarian, I’ve wondered a bit about the theology in all that.

But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t.  When we’re on our knees and lifting our friends in prayer, it isn’t theology that grounds us, but the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit doesn’t merely speak the language of Christianity or faith, but the language of the heart.  So the language of the heart tumbles out of us, knowing no boundaries, no colors, no sects, no creeds.

When I’ve told my friends who aren’t people of faith that I’m praying for them, I think they’ve found it meaningful, perhaps even more meaningful than those in the church.  They don’t have to be Christian to know that interceding for someone is the work of desperation, habit, and perhaps a little bit of faith.  They do it, too, in their own ways.

As I read this little book by Anne Lamott on prayer these days, I am reminded how simply prayer is about communion with God.  I like how she believes that honesty before God, all of our anger, frustration, and fear, can actually lead us toward, rather than away from God.

Hong Kong

And I wonder if we in the Christian community have spoken too often about what prayer isn’t, so that we’re hardly left with anything that prayer is.  The funny thing is, my non-Christian friends want to pray, too.  They sit there before a meal, waiting on me to bless it.  They ask me when and why I pray.  In fact, they’re not nearly as skittish about prayer as we Christians are sometimes.

And what if I leveled with them?  What if I told them that I don’t pray because I have great faith, I pray because I need great faith?  What if I told them, I pray to hear my own voice saying that God is there, because sometimes I myself have a hard time believing it?  What if I told them that I pray because I simply wish I could feel God a bit nearer all the time?

When it comes down to it, I do believe that God meets us in prayer.  But I also believe God intercedes when we don’t have the words, that God hears the prayers that ruminate in our minds whether we choose to speak them or not, so that prayer is not so much about what God is or isn’t doing, but our need for God.

A pagoda peeking out over the trees in Hong Kong.
A pagoda peeking out over the trees in Hong Kong.

But when the doors to the church are shut so tight, I’m pretty sure those outside can’t see that we’re actually just a bunch of needy people, people just like them.  So this morning, I’m praying for friends, Christian and non-Christian alike, and I’m praying for God to shine brightly through my cracks, my weaknesses, and my neediness.  May it truly be God who is glorified, praised, and honored…in prayer, in life, inside the church and out.

In praise of the weekend

It was an invigorating, pedal-to-the-metal kind of a week, full of early mornings, course planning, expectations, connections, and preparations.  

The weather finally turned cold over here in NJ: I took a run in the freezing temperatures on Friday morning feeling quite at home, and yet I’ve also relished the opportunity to rest inside while the wind swirls outside this weekend.

This weather calls for stew, about which my husband, thankfully, knows plenty!
This weather calls for stew, about which my husband, thankfully, knows plenty!

What have you been up to?

I’ve been contemplating these words about doing less, these from the always wise and timely Anne Lamott, and wondering how I can make a visit to this amazing sounding coffee shop sometime in my future?

On Saturday morning I grabbed coffee with a seminary alumnus friend for some good, hearty conversation about academia, life, and faith.  Yesterday afternoon I combed the UPenn Anthropology museum with some friends and then went to a lovely cocktail party to celebrate another friend’s birthday down in Philly.

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Finally, this morning, Evan and I attended church and got to listen to reflections on faith and history.  The pastor read from Dr. King’s “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech which he gave the day before he died.  You can listen to it here.  His words are on my heart and my mind as we honor his memory and his dreams tomorrow.

I’ve been praying for wisdom as I begin to teach, for China, and for grace.  I keep hearing from other wise voices and God’s that I need to continue to let go and live into the harmony of the present, embracing and remaining open to what can and will be.

I’ve been missing walks in the village, the families I grew close to, even the misty sweltering Southwest China weather as of late!  But I am comforted when I see God’s hand in leading me back to this concept of harmony, so woven throughout the fabric of Chinese life and morality.

Guangxi foster family friends.
Guangxi foster family friends.

Could it be that God weaves a harmony in our lives that we are created to crave but in our sinfulness also so easily dismiss?  And could it be that fulfillment and life-giving transformation often involve minute acts of yielding to God’s harmonic rhythm rather than moving boulders, mountains, or dreams with our own two hands?

I hope your Sabbath has been restful…may you yield to God’s perfect harmony this week and give God praise for mountaintops, dreams, and the present.