Friday, April 2, 2010

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

By Anne Lamott
New York, Riverhead Books, 2005

Week 13, Religious and Spiritual

With a great deal of self-deprecating humor, Anne Lamott continues her essays about the Christian life in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. A successful author and essayist, she is also a single mother of a teenage boy named Sam, a recovering addict, a Sunday School teacher, friend and believer.

Lamott is able to turn the mundane of life into spiritual lessons that are at once truthful and funny. One essay describes the establishment of a Sunday School at her church, which apparently is a downtown Presbyterian church in Marin City, California. The Sunday School began with an idea by Anne. She says, “One day, I could feel something tugging on my inside sleeve, which is the only place I ever hear from God; on the shirtsleeve of my heart.” She wanted to make church more fun for her son, and so the adventure began. The women beginning the Sunday School had no real plan or curriculum other than talking about Jesus and serving peanut butter sandwiches and juice boxes. Some of the children were very needy. “Some were wild. We did not exclude anyone, because Jesus didn’t. On bad days, I could not imagine what he had been thinking.” And she says, the Sunday School lurched forward.

She is first and foremost a mother, and her thoughts are always with her son Sam and his growing up. She says that Jesus would have been among the people throwing the first stone, if the person being stoned was 13 years old. She describes a walk they were taking when he was annoying her every step of the way, but once they stop for a rest, he wanted to sit in her lap. And in the midst of his most mind-boggling behavior, she is amazed by his gentleness and his love when he presents her with a diamond heart necklace for Christmas.

Lamott wrote most of the essays in Plan B during the buildup and the beginning of the Iraq war. A fervent Democrat and a progressive Christian, she really gives George W. Bush the “what-for” in these essays, but at the same time, she wants to believe that life will be good again. One of the funniest passages in the book concerns George W. It occurs as she prepares to go to a peace rally in San Francisco. She is nervous about it and decides to pray in preparation. “But then—a small miracle—I started to believe in George Bush. I really did: In my terror, I wondered whether maybe he was smarter than we think he is, and had grasped classified intelligence and nuance in a way that was well above my own understanding or that of our era’s most brilliant thinkers. Then, I thought: Wait—George Bush? And relief washed over me like gentle surf, because believing in George Bush was so ludicrous that believing in God seems almost rational.”

I envy Anne her friendships, which are so pure and deep. I envy her the dedication she feels to her church and her spiritual mentors, and her ability to remember sermons and her desire to be there for people who are suffering. I envy the profoundness with which she is able to concisely sum up an event in humorous but intensely spiritual terms. I think that I envy her faith, which supports and sustains her.

Lamott is at once profound, crass, irreverent, obsessive, and deeply, deeply Christian. Most readers will love her and be moved by her essays. This is not her first book of essays, but the one that has been sitting on my shelf for several years. Her other books of essays are Travelling Mercies and Operating Instructions, and she has a new novel, Imperfect Birds due out next week. You can also find her essays on

Here is a review of Plan B, from Maureen Corrigan on PBS Fresh Air.

Here is an interview with Anne Lamott made at one of her favorite churches, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I want to be Anne Lamott, the writer, when I grow up. The capability of laughing at one's self even when life presents its difficult challenges is a gift. Lamott teaches me much by examining her own sense of resurrection of ordinariness into extraordinariness.