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The Confessions of Annie Lamott

October 18, 2010

Tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 12 noon, we will continue our three-week tour of Annie Lamott’s Traveling Mercies by focusing on how Lamott explores and develops her understanding of faith by using the book to confess all sorts of sins–thoughts, words and deeds that separate her from the love of God. In this way, Traveling Mercies follows in the footsteps of the great Confessions of the past–I’m thinking especially of The Confessions of St. Augustine (written at the end of the fourth century), but also of Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s Confessions (1782), and A Confession by Leo Tolstoy (1882), just to name a few.

Over the course of her book, Lamott describes her alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual escapades with married men, her very unplanned–and nearly aborted–pregnancy, how she can fly off the handle with anger at her young son–and so forth and so on. Here’s a favorite excerpt of mine in which Lamott describes her struggle to forgive a fellow parent whom she knew through her kid’s school and came to despise.

I called half a dozen people when I got home and told them about how she had trashed me. And then I trashed her. And it was good. The next time I saw her, she smiled. I sneered, just a little. I felt disgust, but I also felt disgusting. I got out my note to God. I said, Look, hon. I think we need bigger guns.

Nothing happened. No burning bush, no cereal flakes dropping from heaven, forming letters of instruction in the snow. It’s just God began to act like Sam-I-Am from “Green Eggs and Ham.” Everywhere I turned were helpful household hints on loving one’s enemies, on turning the other cheek, and on how doing that makes you look in a whole new direction. There were admonitions about the self-destructiveness of not forgiving people, and reminders that this usually doesn’t hurt other people so much as it hurts you. In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. Fortune cookies, postcards, bumper stickers, everything but skywriting–yet I kept feeling that I could not, would not forgive her in a box, could not would not forgive her with a fox, not on a train, not in the rain…

Then an old friend from Texas left a message on my answering machine that said, “Don’t forget, God loves us exactly the way we are, and God loves us too much to let us stay like this.” Only I think she must have misquoted it, because she said, “God loves you too much to let you stay like this.”

I looked nervously over both shoulders.

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