Writer Anne Lamott was raised by atheists and spent years addicted to drugs and drink. She traces her sobriety and spirituality to a day in the the mid-1980s when she felt the presence of Jesus – like a mewling alley cat, she later wrote. Hung over and recovering from an abortion, Lamott let him in and, a week later, got herself to a Presbyterian church.
Now 59 and the author of 15 books, Lamott has millions of fans who see themselves in her funny-sad novels and, especially in recent years, in her wise and witty essays on brokenness, joy and prayer.
Lamott wrote her new book, “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair,” as a search for meaning after the slaughter of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.
And Lamott – a left-wing, born-again, dreadlock-wearing Christian who reads the Bible daily and still attends that interracial “Baptist in spirit” church near San Francisco – is currently speaking at churches around the country.
On Nov. 10 , she’ll be at Charlotte’s Christ Episcopal. It’s sold out.
The Observer recently spoke by phone to Lamott. Here’s an excerpt from it.
You seem to be medicine to your readers.
I tell the truth… And I think truth is medicine. And I know laughter is medicine. So people, I think, partly respond to me because I have a good sense of humor. I have a sense of humor about a lot of stuff that sometimes is hard to have a sense of humor about. I know I love it when I come upon people who can make me laugh about stuff I felt very sensitive or grippy and clenched up about.
You’ve said you feel like “a kind of a missionary” who can share with people God’s “absolute love for all his children.” Are people hungry to hear that?
I think people are starving to be reminded that they’re loved and that there’s something else going on besides their own very worried minds and perceptions. I know that I am really hungry for it, to just be reminded as often as possible that I’m not completely alone in all this and that I believe in a power greater than myself and some sort of divine love/intelligence in the universe.
In your new book, you write that the American passion for getting ahead and upping your status “turns out not be helpful in the search for your true self on earth.” Have you found Anne Lamott’s true place on earth?
Well, one day at a time. I remember certain very core concepts, which is that I need to always slow down. I probably need to sit down. I need to remember to breathe. I need to remember to let go, let go, let go. I think one of the blessings of getting a little bit older is that you let go of a lot of stuff that you used to care a lot about. Like what your butt looks like. You’ve got to throw a bunch of stuff out of the airplane that’s just keeping you flying too low. So I don’t feel like, “Oh, I’ve found my niche,” but I’ve found a niche sufficient for today. And that is incredibly rich and sweet and filled with love and dogs and a cat and my son and my grandson.
You’ve said that Jesus first came to you in a low moment and you let him in. How’s that relationship these days?
I really tried to keep him out because I was raised to just recoil from all Jesus talk. I did let him, when I was 31 – I got sober when I was 32 – and it’s just very slowly been a side-by-side experience of learning to love and accept myself and love and welcome Jesus. Now I just don’t miss church. I go to this funny little church. There are probably 25 of us there Sunday. I’m a Sunday school teacher. I’m with the kids a lot. If I’m here, I’m there – it’s that simple. My priority is this sense of union, slow but sure union with God.
Your last book, about prayer, was called “Help, Thanks, Wow.” As you look around, what are you wow-ing about and what is causing you to cry for help?
Everything, especially my own mental processes, gets me to call out for help. I really believe I can help the people I’m closest to and fix them and save them and correct their thinking. So I have to be healed of that belief because it’s insanity. So I ask for a lot of help: “Just let me let go, let me release that person to your care. Let me stop.” A lot of my prayers involve me stopping whatever crazy mental train I’ve been on. And “Wow”? My son and grandson are coming over. I just want to savor that time. I hike with a girlfriend, and (today) I savored every bird, every redwood, every flicker of light through the canopy of trees we walk under.
You’ve embraced social media. Has that changed your approach to writing?
I fell in love, eventually, with Facebook, especially where I write little essays a couple of times a week. I write pieces that I think are really important there. If I become irretrievably wealthy in the next few years, I would really only write on Facebook. I would only write for free. I love this populist thing that’s going on. I love that people are talking to each other. It’d be a very easy time for everybody to shut down and to get into this deep isolationism. It’s just wonderful in these frightening times for people to be staying in contact and to be saying, “Here I am. This is what I look like. How are you?”
A lot of non-Catholics have joined the Pope Francis fan club. You?
He seems great. It’s too soon to tell. But I love him speaking out against doctrine as opposed to our human mess and our humanity. I love that he washed the feet of Muslims and the feet of women.
We live in a supposedly religious country. Yet we are bitterly divided and not very civil with each other.
I believe that against all odds, grace bats last, and that little by little, in ways that may not be visible for awhile, this polarization will heal. For my part, I pray not to be so self-righteous, and to keep remembering that we are all one family.
You tried Match.com at age 59. Meet anyone special?
A. Not yet. But match.com has taught me how to date, how to gently get out of a second date, and how to get over a man not wanting a second date with me. I am a stay-at-home pet owner, so Match has given me lots of intros to kind, smart men my age – just not the right one, yet. But I’m a crabby optimist, and never give up.