Sunday, May 13, 2007

language


I remember when I was in theological College the first piece of writing I was asked to accomplish was my testimony. I remember the fall-out from fellow students who couldn't believe they had been graded so low, because of the 'Damascas Road' conversion they had experienced...it was only when it was pointed out that to us that it wasn't our stories that were being assessed but rather how our stories were being told...

Brennan Manning suggests ‘The question for all of us is what we will really aim at next. If all we are going for is placid decency, routine prayer, well-behaved worship, and comfortable compassion, then we have effectively parted company with the shipwrecked and have no fellowship with the pearl-finder.’

'I didn't go to the flea market the week of my abortion. I stayed home, and smoked dope and got drunk, and tried to write a little, and went for slow walks along the salt marsh with Pammy. On the seventh night, though, very drunk and just about to taking a sleeping pill, I discovered that I was bleeding heavily. It did not stop over the next hour. i was going through a pad every fifteen minutes, and I thought i should call a doctor or Pammy, but I was so disgusted that I had gotten so drunk one week after an abortion that I just couldn't wake someone up and ask for help. I kept changing Kotex, and got very sober very quickly.

Several hours later, the blood stopped flowing, and I got in bed, shaky and sad and too wild to have another drink or take a sleeping pill. I had a cigarette and turned off the light. After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there - of course, there wasn't. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond a doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, "I would rather die."

I felt him sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn't help because that's not what I was seeing him with.

Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.

This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.

And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn't stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which i just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or 'something' was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling - and it washed over me.

I began to cry amd left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers inder a sky as blue as one of God's own dreams, and I opened the door to my boathouse, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, "Fuck it: I quit." I took a long deep breath and said out loud, "All right. You can come in."

So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.'
(Anne Lamott: Travelling Mercies - Some Thoughts On Faith)

26 comments:

urbanmonk said...

Thanks I needed this

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

i should read it more than i do as a meditation - always wanted to read this out in church, sadly have never been allowed....

marcella said...

It's wonderful. I will think of it every time I see a certain notice that says "do not let the cat in" - I've ALWAYS thought that was particularly closed and unfriendly advice, but now it will remind me of something a whole lot more important and profound.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

it really is the most painfully beautiful story - I can't think of a writer who captures the grace god shows when (s)he woo's us....if you haven't read the book try to do so....you won't be disappointed

Kathryn said...

Oh Paul, THANK YOU. I read those words some years ago, unattributed...and they made me cry then and have just done so once again, in the most beautifully real was possible.
You can come and read it in my church any time you like...

mister tumnus said...

her book about the first year of her life as a mother ('operating instructions') is also wonderful. she writes so well about ordinary life. from 'travelling mercies' i always remember the bit about her dreadlocks.

Awareness said...

Wow!

It is the "how" isn't it? stories are not authentically unique......unless spoken/written using our own gutterally honest words. It's so easy to write something which skims along the surface...a light fluffy piece from a Hallmark card....or to write about an experience while worried of how others (the important others in our lives) will interpret it.

Manning's so right.....if we can't face our own mishaps, our own discomfort and find the words or actions to share......how in the world will be able to relate to the shipwrecked? We will never find the pearls of wisdom if we don't share........the words which define our own entity....

I have so much reading to do!! I first learned of Anne Lamott last year while reading Yancey's Soul Survivor and havent taken the time to seek her out....though am intrigued and eager to immerse myself in her take on life.

paris parfait said...

A very powerful story. Anne Lamott is one of my favourite writers and "Traveling Mercies" is one of my favourite books. I just got her new book "Grace Eventually," although haven't find time to read it yet.

bluemountainmama said...

you have just convinced me to read "travelling mercies"....i have heard so much about it, but never read.

Society's Elite said...

so liberating to hear that kind of honesty, ya know? i love that you put that up... thanks for sharing...

Society's Elite said...

and for those who havent read it yet, you must... be prepared to cry, laugh, get mad, and dance while reading...

Awareness said...

It was Annie Dillard I was thinking of......not Anne Lamott.

I hadn't heard of her before, and it looks like I am totally missing out on some beautiful insightful writing. will have to pick up Travelling mercies.....

I even love the title....

Anna said...

Thank you, thank you.....what an uplifting story of redemption and grace.....

I too, have been sold on getting a copy....

Tori said...

Beautiful post.
I love Anne Lamott.
I always am amazed how common readings can connect us.

Heidi Renee said...

Her new book "Grace (Eventually)" is just as good!

Julie said...

Sometimes - well all the time I think God loves it more when we are messy but real with him, than when we are tidy and good. I must read one of her books.

Julie

Suzanna said...

I am currently extrememly nauseous on a cruise boat. I have to endure one more day. I will be thinking of her words. I, on the other hand have been needing and looking for Jesus thoroughly for the past few weeks. He's been known to show up sleeping on storming waters. I'd be very pleased with a dry dock.

foulkesfamily said...

Apparently I am the only one disturbed rather than encouraged by this. I appreciate that conversion accounts vary from person to person. I am grateful that God receives sinners just as they are, and not requiring them to become something else first. In that I rejoice too.

As to whether this particular story qualifies as a conversion account, I am somewhat unsure. Perhaps I ought to read more by her before being so concerned.

So far? Not so helped...

Anna said...

Doing OK there? Just checking in....

:)

paris parfait said...

Dear Paul, Came back to let you know I watched the last half of The Passion of Christ last night on French television. I found the extreme level of violence shocking - perhaps Gibson felt that was needed to get the point across to audiences hardened by Hollywood action films. I did find moments of beauty in the film, which surprised me. I was prepared to dislike it, as I dislike Gibson's self-serving politics and public statements. Hard to judge since I missed the first half, but it did remind me of the great sacrifice made and how we should be thankful every day for the privileged lives we lead. xo

foulkesfamily said...

I have reflected a little since my last comment, and am ready to make an assessment of Anne Lamott's 'conversion' account.

Perhaps I could put it like this:

"And Lamott, standing afar off, would not so much as raise her eyes to heaven, but beat her breast saying, 'F*** it, you can come in'. I tell you, this woman went down to her house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts herself will be humbled, and she who humbles herself will be exalted..."

Luke 18: 13-14

Alternatively:

"As she journeyed, she came to Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around her from heaven. Then she fell on the ground, and heard a voice saying to her, 'Anne, Anne, why are you persecuting me?' And she said, 'Who are you Lord?' Then the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads'. So Anne, trembling and astonished, said, 'F*** it, you can come in.'"

Acts 9: 3 - 6

Conversion? I don't think so.

Suzanna said...

Oh I think so!
;)

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Dear all, i have thought long and hard before commenting, as alas i don't think the debate regarding the authenticity of annie's conversion is going to get anybody anywhere - plainly foulkes family you think not, many others think so

thankfully (and i mean this more than any words will express) i am not the one who will sort the wheat from the chaff, the goats from the sheep...i am just very glad God's grace and mercy is much deeper than my own

i guess we'll find out the other side whether dear annie is 'in' or 'out' and by then our differences will matter no more

my reason for including this a week ago was that
I don't believing in covering up cracks. Rather i believe in redeeming those landscapes of brokenness and terrifying loneliness and difficulty that we often find ourselves traversing. to fight hard to give back to the little people of this world that which this world had taken so remorselessly from them.

My dear late friend Mike Yaconelli, who was prophetically odd at the best of times, said of himself, ‘I want to be a good person. I don’t want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus into my own clutteredness. I want desperately to know God better. I want to be consistent. Right now though the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency. Who I want to be and who I am are not very close together. I am not doing well at the living-a-consistent-life thing.’

Thank God (and I mean that literally) for a heavyweight of faith to be so engagingly honest. To actually come out and verbalise what most of us think every day of the week and twice on Sunday’s. Mike often used to say that; ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.’ This empathetic take on the Christian faith allowed anyone who actually did feel odd very much at home. I think it was Journalist and dear friend of Mike’s Martin Wroe who said that he had a gift for making the way of faith seem possible for amateurs. I remember him saying that Christianity has ‘a tradition of messy spirituality. Messy prophets, messy kings, messy disciples, messy apostles, from God’s people getting into one mess after another in the Old Testament to most of the New Testament’s being written to straighten out messes within the church, the Bible presents a glorious story of a very messy faith.’ Now I bet most of you don’t hear that much from the pulpit (if indeed you have one) week in week out. When I asked Mike what he thought that meant for the likes of you and me, he replied, with a wealth of mischief and wonder in his eyes: ‘Sounds like you and I are in good company.’

Mike persistently refused to accept the intolerable and continued to the last to dream that the impossible was actually in some mystical way possible. He invited us to dwell in the house of freedom, and throw open all the doors and windows, and in doing so his life embodied how it is possible to be free, to be fully human and fully alive. Always a big believer that no matter how messy our lives seemed, regardless of how incomplete we were, Jesus was not discouraged by our humanity; in fact it was the very thing that drew us closer still to his indiscriminate love.

I don't think annie would use that word perhaps as much as she once did, but i for one am not going to begrudge her a place in heaven for saying 'fuck it' - but i guess we should leave God's business to God and get on with the loving of God with all we have and loving our neighbour as we would be loved

grace to you all

Awareness said...

count me in.........it is the vision your friend Mike so beautifully expressed where I feel like I too fit.....as an odd duckling trying to figure it out.

wonderful reply.....

we are all doing the best we can do and be.....our choices and life situations can often take us down very messy roads to finding our faith.

Like you stated.....very glad God's grace and mercy are much deeper than our own.

in fact, it's a bit of a f*****g relief to know!

couldn't resist.....

Layla (aka Barbara) said...

I love Anne. Urbs told me you had an incredible post over here and I just happen to be re-reading Traveling Mercies right now. I can relate to her sooooooooo well in so many ways.

foulkesfamily said...

Didn't realise this thread still had life, or I would have sought to respond a little earlier. My apologies.

As far as your last comments are concerned, Paul, I agree. Who arbitrates entrance to heaven? Only God. I also am thankful that such a task is nothing to do with me. Without real care, there is a real danger that one can end up stomping all over the injunction 'to not judge lest one is also judged'. I, like you, am really thankful that so many spoiled, marginalised and 'messy' people find their place in God.

Nevertheless, her 'conversion account' disturbs me. Perhaps the rest of her writings drip with evidence of a repentant heart before a holy God. I don't know. WHat she says here, however, appears at best to be extremely ill judged.