Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Small Victories:" A Good Way to Celebrate Epiphany

I began reading essayist Anne Lamott's new book, Small Victories,  after  hearing her speak in November  at the Free Library of Philadelphia. My friend Shannon, an author and a  jail chaplain in Tacoma, suggested this would be a great book to read for Advent.

Well, even though it's under 300 pages, I just completed it today. Lamott's  is an authentic voice, one that does not sugar coat reality but which helps me find God in the smallest moments. Finishing the book is a good way to celebrate the Epiphany, that time when Jesus revealed himself to the world beyond his circumstances.

Lamott is a writer  we writers are supposed to love and one whose work I have not taken the time to read fully. While I have read bits and pieces of her illuminating work, this is the first full book of hers I have read from start to finish. She labels herself a "left wing" Christian and I suppose she is, but the label, as any political label does, reduces the value of her insights.

This book is a series of 23 essays divided into four categories: "Companions," " Families," "Airborne" and "Ground."  Lamott has such a talent for describing the most minute, banal, potentially embarrassing moments of her life and helping us see how she found grace within them. People cutting in line at the movie theater.  An elderly friend selling her home of many years. Taking a young friend dying of cancer skiing at Easter time. Through all of this, Lamott manages to catch glimpes of the Divine. This is a journey I have been on as well for many years, trying to find transcendence in the ordinary moments.

For the past year or so I have made the acquaintance of a woman in her early twenties. She is a lifelong Catholic and currently dating a young man who is a professed atheist. She shared with me that she is having trouble explaining to her boyfriend her faith. She does not see eye to eye with the Church on many issues, including its opposition to gay marriage. But the Church is a part of her past and her present and she imagines raising her children-to-be one day in the faith. She is asking me my views.

In addition to telling her it would be important for her boyfriend to respect her beliefs, I told her God finds wherever we are, not just within the walls of a Church.  A living faith, I told her, is one we take with us from Mass and into our encounters with those put in front of us.  Lamott, a church-going Presbyterian, knows how to do this.

Lamott's skillful use of metaphors throughout this book was a reminder to me of how interconnected the created world is during what she calls our "ebullient trudge" through our lives.  She tells the story of winning a free ham in the supermarket, and not wanting it but taking it graciously. One her way to her car, she knocks her shopping cart in the parking lot into the car of a woman she knew in her recovery program, a woman who is hungry and needs food to feed her children.  The Hand of God is made visible here.

"I thought about the seasonal showers in the desert, how potholes in the rocks fill with rain, When you look afterward, there are already frogs in the water and brine shrimp reproducing, like commas doing the macarena, and it seems. but only seems, that you went from parched to overflow in the blink of an eye." 

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