When funny and lovable Anne Lamott writes about religion, people sit up and pay attention. This is true, I believe, because she’s so devoid of pomposity or self-righteousness. She comes across as the opposite of holier-than-thou; rather, just a regular person who by luck – or grace – has found her conception of God and, because she’s a writer of some renown, chooses to share her joy.
Last week, for example, The New York Times published Lamott’s Opinion about prayer (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/08/opinion/prayer-supreme-court-football.html ). In it she gives her definition: “Prayer means talking to God, or to the great universal spirit, a.k.a. Gus, or to Not Me. Prayer connects us umbilically to a spirit both outside and within us, who hears and answers. Is it like the comedian Flip Wilson saying, ‘I’m gonna pray now; anyone want anything?’ Kind of.”
Reading Anne Lamott’s entire Opinion made me wonder: How many ordinary, everyday people around this crazy, seemingly spinning-out-of-control world still pray? And where do their prayers come from? Do they only recite prayers by rote that come from little black shopworn books held in racks on the backs of pews in their houses of worship once a week (or once in a while)? How meaningful to them are these recitations?
Is prayer for them something akin to the “pledge-of-allegiance-to-the-flag-of-the-United-States-of-America” we American kids had to stand up and give – right hands flat against the place we imagined our hearts to be — every morning in school at a time when few if any of us could even begin to define the word “allegiance”? All just mumbled, meaningless words, while our eyes scanned the classroom.
Anne Lamott is unapologetic about her prayer life, so she inspires me to be the same. I pray every morning. It’s as vital to my morning routine as making coffee. In fact, for me there’s a meaningful connection between the two acts: Just as I need to plug in my little electric coffee maker to the energy source in order to make the coffee-making possible, I must plug into God in my heart when I pray.
I pray alone, aloud. My prayers are cris du coeur, gritos del corazon, cries of the heart. And I know that my conception of God – a power, like electricity, for good, who knows all languages and all hearts – hears them.
I ask for strength — because my tank is always on Empty in the morning — and I trust I’ll get the strength I need for the day. I ask for patience, tolerance, empathy, compassion, love, understanding, endurance, fortitude, wisdom – all the things I lack. I make many demands. But I also strive to balance these demands with thank-yous, making a point of acknowledging my many blessings. Prayer is a big part of my morning routine, as necessary to me as morning coffee, inviolable.
In the past, when young mothers learned that my baby daughter was stolen by her father and subsequently brainwashed against me, they’ve responded, “How did you survive? It would kill me to lose my baby!” At the time, I was at a loss for words. But now, looking back, I can safely say I survived because of prayer.
As I wrote in a WOW post about prayer last October, “Boxing with God” (www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/boxing-with-God/ ), “My God, the Great Spirit (to borrow the Native American term), creator of all that is good, and freely available to all through heartfelt prayer, doesn’t live in any one church – or synagogue or temple or mosque, for that matter. In my view, no religion holds the sole proprietorship on God.
“My God, The-Power-For-Good, who sustains me, guides me, uplifts me, gives me purpose — and often answers my prayers — lives in the boxing ring in my heart.”
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Anne Lamott is the beloved bestselling author of dozens of books, my favorite of which is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which every aspiring writer needs to read – if only for the famous (or infamous?) chapter in it, “Shitty First Drafts.”