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Grace (Eventually) (thoughts)

September 8, 2009

graceeventuallySorry about all of the parentheses in that post title! But Anne Lamott’s essay collection is entitled Grace (Eventually), which I enjoy since parentheses are some of my favourite punctuation marks.

Usually, I try to avoid discussing controversial topics on my blog, like religion and politics. But in the part month, I’ve been thinking more and more about Christianity, and I’ve felt drawn towards giving it another shot. I mention this because, being me, I suddenly want to read books about it, so you’ll probably notice a few Christian books on the blog where before there were none. (I just found a church this Sunday that I think will be a good fit-and it has its own little library! I totally wanted to just curl up there for awhile. :D ) A couple of weeks ago, I headed over to B&N and browsed their ‘Christian nonfiction’ (that’s not what they call it-maybe inspiration?) section, to try to get acquainted with the genre. And that’s how I ended up getting Grace (Eventually) from the library!

The collection is subtitled Thoughts on Faith, and God and Jesus definitely appear in the pages. But the essays are really about life-how we struggle through the bad times, how we celebrate the good, and how find ourselves growing (or not) along the way. Lamott’s pretty much the opposite of a ‘stereotypical’ Christian: she was an alcoholic and drug-using hippie in her youth, she’s a single mom, she’s very far to the left on the political spectrum, and she doesn’t pretend to have an anywhere near perfect life. That being said, she believes in finding grace in the little things, and that’s what makes these essays so magical and powerful. I don’t think you have to be a Christian at all to enjoy this book.

Lamott has an incredible writing style; I wouldn’t consider essays my favourite genre by a long shot, but each of hers is exquisite. Rather than keep talking in generalisations, I thought it might be better to discuss my absolute favourites! First up is “Dance Class,” which opens:

One night recently, Neshama and I agreed to be helpers at my friend Karen’s special-ed dance class. Neshama wanted to go because she is a lifelong dancer-modern, ballet, Bolinas tribal stomp. Perhaps some on you caught her act during the sixties, when she performed at a nightclub doing the Hippie Dance of Love. She is short, sixty-five, with fuzzy hair like mine.


From there, most of the essay focuses on the dance class itself-the students:

Many people with Down’s syndrome look like family, like relatives of one another, while autistic people look more like the rest of us, if a little tense. Within ten minutes, I discovered that when I spoke to the people in dance class, the veil of illusion kept dropping-the ones who looked most like “the rest of us” were often the least available for ordinary human contact, while the ones who looked seriously different were often the most responsive and engaged.


as well as the actual moves:

After introductions, we did wiggly warm-up stretches to classic James Brown, and when the music ended, everyone in the circle spun around like the Godfather of Soul, while screaming, “Aaawwhhhooohhh.” I was pretty good at this. So was a young woman with cerebral palsy, spinning in a wheelchair, grinning, her twiggy fingers curled into somehow sweet claws.


See how skilled Lamott is at bringing a scene, people to life? I feel like I’m right there with her!

Another favourite was “A Field Theory of Beauty.” It’s exactly what it sounds like, and here’s my favourite bit:

Most of us don’t notice how great we look until years, even decades later. Not long ago, I was looking at photos of myself at various ages and weights-way before the neckular deterioration began, way before the fanny pack of menopause-and I could see how gorgeous I must have looked to everyone else. At sixteen, with an Afro, twenty pounds heavier than I’d been the year before, I was radiant with youth, athleticism, and intelligence; at the time, I thought I looked like Marty Feldman. In my mid-twenties, an anorexic hippie, I had a best friend who frequently mentioned that she was the pretty one, which I thought went without saying. But from the pictures I was looking at, I could see that I was the other pretty one, a waifish Renaissance fairy, mesmerizing. Then, at thirty-three, clean, sober, and healing from bulimia, twenty pounds and twenty years lighter than I am now. I’m posing in a periwinkle swimsuit, but covering my thighs in shame, as if someone were photographing me in the junior high locker room instead of on a public beach. There is a rip in the photo; I stared to tear it so n one would see. Twenty pounds ago! Twenty years! Why did it take me so long to discover what a dish I was? And not just because of externals. And how crazy would you have to be, knowing this, yet still not rejoicing in your current looks?


Ok, just one more passage:

The major one follows, in [Jesus’] anti-anxiety discourse-which is the soul of this passage-that all striving after greater beauty and importance, and greater greatness, is foolishness. It is ultimately like trying to catch the wind. Lilies do not need to do anything to make themselves more glorious or cherished. Jesus is saying that we have much to learn from them about giving up striving. He’s not saying that in a “Get over it” way, as your mother or your last, horrible husband did. Instead he’s heartbroken, as when you know an anorexic girl who’s starving to death, as if in some kind of demonic possession. He’s saying that we could be aware of, filled with, and saved by the presence of holy beauty, rather than worship golden calves.


I think this essay illustrates Lamott’s other remarkable gift: she’s so completely honest, utterly open, with the reader that I can’t help but be touched by what she’s saying.

Reading this essay collection was like meeting up with an older, wiser woman friend. I didn’t always agree with Lamott, but I always valued her opinion. And I want a copy of this book for myself, so I can turn to it during dark times, and know that things will get better. I highly recommend this for anyone.

Have you read an essay collection that you found comforting and inspiring all at once? Do you have any great Christian books to recommend?

41 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2009 6:58 am

    *puts in a plug for her patron saint*

    Have you ever read Julian of Norwich’s book Showings ? She was a fourteenth-century mystic, and when she was extremely sick, she had a number of visions of God. She wrote down her visions after she got better, and then years later, she wrote about them at more length – so there’s a short & a long version of her book. They think it’s the first book written by a woman in English!

    I love the things she has to say; it all rings very true to me which is why I took Julian for my confirmation name. Most famously she says “and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and every manner of thing shall be well.” It’s a wonderful book – but maybe a bit older than you were thinking. :P

  2. September 8, 2009 7:32 am

    I really like Karen Armstrong. She has great books about the history of religions (A History of God is my favorite), and also some really good memoirs. The Spiral Staircase is probably the best.

    I’m continually drawn toward and repelled by Christianity and other religions and I like reading about it, so I’m curious to hear what you will find!

    I also really loved Diana Eck’s book Encountering God. It’s about Christianity and Hinduism, and it’s a theological argument, but she also talks about her life and her own beliefs as well, and it’s really wonderful.

  3. September 8, 2009 7:45 am

    I’ve never read this book, but I love another of Lamott’s books – Traveling Mercies. I would highly recommend it. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller is also an excellent read. My community group recently read They Like Jesus but Not the Church by Dan Kimball, and it definitely challenged me to really think about my faith differently.

  4. September 8, 2009 8:28 am

    I also enjoyed Traveling Mercies. In general, I like Ann Lamott’s books. Her novels are also really good. One that you may enjoy is Blue Shoe.

  5. September 8, 2009 8:58 am

    I am pleased to hear that you are exploring your religion. I am not very religious and I envy people who have found a religion they whole heartedly believe in. I look forward to seeing more posts about the Christian books you find.

  6. September 8, 2009 9:09 am

    This sounds good! I have it on my tbr and need to read it. I’ve heard great things about Anne Lamott in general.

  7. September 8, 2009 9:20 am

    Anne Lamott is my girl-crush. Donald Miller is a younger, less-talented Anne Lamott that everyone seems to want to compare to her. Donald Miller is to Anne Lamott as storebought bread is to homemade – more or less the same idea, but not as good. If you can some how read him without comparing him to her, I’m sure he’s excellent.

    Also, yes, Travelling Mercies is quite good.

    • September 9, 2009 12:38 pm

      LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Though I do want to read Donald Miller’s new book..he wrote my favorite blog post of the year.

  8. September 8, 2009 9:32 am

    I’ve read Traveling Mercies and this one by Lamott (also Bird by Bird, and one of her novels), and quite liked them. I enjoyed Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz; I wasn’t comparing he and Lamott, but I’ll generally agree with Raych’s assessment. I’d suggest Kathleen Norris. The only one I’ve read is Dakota (I’ve acquired nearly everything she’s written based on that read), but it’s a book I love to recommend. No one I know has been disappointed by it.

  9. September 8, 2009 12:18 pm

    I received her book Bird by Bird for Christmas and have been so eager to read it. Too many books I’m eager to read. Anyway, I’m so glad to hear you her writing…makes me even more eager. :D Eager…just had to throw it in there one more time. (Sorry. I’m over caffeinated.)

  10. September 8, 2009 12:24 pm

    I’ve read parts of “bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, but that’s about it. I really should try to read more of her works!

    Some one already mentioned Karen Armstrong; for another historical context, I’ve also enjoyed Bruce Feiler such as “Abraham” and “Walking the Bible”.

  11. September 8, 2009 12:41 pm

    I loved your first quote from “A Field Theory of Beauty.” I did the exact same thing recently and was so surprised to find all these great pictures of me taken years ago (when I was much thinner). And yet I do still have trouble appreciating the way I look now.

    I love Anne Lamott, although I haven’t read this book yet. I need to!

    I’m currently reading a fantastic book, Fingerprints of God, which is written by a woman who was/is a Christian Scientist. (She questions her faith in the book, so I’m not sure if she still identifies as a Christian Scientist.) I’d also recommend Kathleen Norris, especially Dakota and The Cloister Walk. Finally, I highly recommend At the Root of This Longing by Carol Lee Flinders. She’s not Christian, but this is such a fantastic (and thought-provoking) book about spirituality. In fact, I think I need to reread it.

    Great review as always! (However, I think you must have been in a hurry to post it because it contains quite a few typos! I hope you don’t mind me pointing this out…)

  12. September 8, 2009 12:47 pm

    What an interesting collection of essays! The quotes really made me want to read it. Hmm, I think, I will have to put this one onto my to read list. :)

    I second those who already mentioned Karen Armstrong. Also her autobiographical book Through the Narrow Gate about her years in a convent is very interesting.

    Have you read any books by Anthony de Mello? I think Awareness. A De Mello Spirituality Conference In His Own Words (ed. by J. Francis Stroud, S.J.) is simply amazing. I would also recommend any of his meditative books (like The Song of the Bird, The Way to Love or One Minute Wisdom)


  13. September 8, 2009 2:16 pm

    Jenny, that sounds really interesting-have you read My Life With the Saints? It made me more curious to read books written by saints. :)

    Dorothy, oh-thanks for all the recs! And I feel the same drawing/repelling thing too. :)

    Brittany, I’ve heard of that Kimball book-the title amuses me. :)

    Beastmomma, I didn’t realise she wrote novels too!

    Vivienne, thanks. :)

    Jenny, I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of her before!

    Raych, why didn’t you tell me to read her?! And what an awesome metaphor there. :D

    Wordlily, if Dakota made you want to own all of her books, I’ll definitely try her out!

    Debi, I use the same words over and over too! :D

    Valerie, those Feiler books sound neat!

    Avisannschild, lol-I don’t mind you pointing out the typos. I was in a hurry-my mom and I share a comp, and she needed it. :) I’ve fixed them now! And thanks for all the recs!

    Tiina, aren’t the quotes great? The whole book is like that! I haven’t red de Mello, but he sounds marvelous.

  14. September 8, 2009 2:22 pm

    If this is your first Lamott, I envy you for that feeling of discovery! Grace (Eventually) is her third book in this vein, and it’s been in TBR Purgatory for awhile, along with Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, her first follow-up to Traveling Mercies. I have read that one, though – love it. And while it’s in a different vein, Bird by Bird is an absolute must-read. If you’re exploring Christianity, you can hardly have a more enjoyable tour guide, in my opinion.

    And here’s one more recommendation for Karen Armstrong’s books for religious history and background. Kathleen Norris was also mentioned in comments here; I’ve liked Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith and The Cloister Walk as memoirs of a personal religious journey.

  15. September 8, 2009 3:07 pm

    Have you ever read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken?
    If not…
    The Vanaukens were friends of C.S. Lewis and he encouraged them to scrutinize and put Christian doctrine to the test. The phrase “a severe mercy” took on special meaning for me after reading this and ever since I’ve looked at life’s hardships and tragedies in a different way than I used to.

  16. September 8, 2009 3:10 pm

    I had to give up on Julian of Norwich. Her writing is too dense for me. She argues like a lawyer.

    Lamott is so great. I’d love to read Grace (Eventually) Traveling Mercies was very good.

    Ditto the commenter who mentioned Kathleen Norris. Yes! Run, don’t walk to the Eva-brary and grab what you can of hers.

    I have a book I’ve never read called The Book of Margery Kempe. From what I gather, she’s the 14th century Anne Lamott.

  17. September 8, 2009 6:21 pm

    Anne Lamott is one of my writing heroes–love her. Traveling Mercies is hands-down my favorite. I second the recommendations for Kathleen Norris as well.

    Madeleine L’Engle has written some wonderful memoirs about her faith. I’d recommend The Irrational Season or Circle of Quiet among those.

    Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis is a must if you haven’t read it already. Advice from a demon on how to be a better demon. Hilarious and insightful.

    If you want to read more saints but don’t know where to start, Devotional Classics by Richard Foster might be useful. It’s a collection of readings by saints and other great Christians through the centuries. Each reading is usually around four pages long, and there are study questions (if that’s your thing), and a list of recommended works by each. It’s a nice way to get a taste of a lot of different voices.

  18. September 8, 2009 6:31 pm

    Another Christian book that isn’t too preachy is Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. Have you read that one? It’s really good!

  19. September 8, 2009 7:01 pm

    I’d never heard of My Life with the Saints before – it looks really interesting! I am intrigued. Thanks for the recommendation!

  20. September 8, 2009 7:10 pm

    Having grown up on an overload of Christian books, I typically find myself wanting to run screaming from inspirational books. But still, I was totally into this review, totally interested in reading more from Annie Lamott. I like the sections you included, they really pulled me into her writing style.

    As far as recommendations, I haven’t actually read Blue Like Jazz, but I had a few friends strongly recommend it, and I heard the author speak once; he was pretty good.

  21. September 8, 2009 10:32 pm

    I’ll second, or third Kathleen Norris. I read Dakota a few years ago and thought it was lovely. She has a way with words and scenes that is beautiful. I was also living on the prairie near South Dakota when I read Dakota, so that made me especially appreciative.

    Bird by Bird is a book on writing that I go to when I’m feeling stuck or overwhelmed; it’s not about Christianity, but it might be a little bit about faith (faith in yourself and a writing process, perhaps).

    I’ve picked up this book a number of times, but I’ve always puit back on the shelf because I’m not a big organized religion kind of person. But I do have a sort of faith I like to explore, so when you said, “She believes in finding grace in the little things, and that’s what makes these essays so magical and powerful,” I was sold and I won’t be putting it back next time.

  22. September 8, 2009 11:10 pm

    I actually picked this book up a few years ago on audio, and I was SOOOO excited about it. Sadly, it was one of those instances when the author’s voice reading her own work was so grating that I wanted to throw it out the window. I’ve often wondered if I would’ve had better luck just reading the written text. Based on those passages you shared, I might give it another try.

  23. September 8, 2009 11:52 pm

    C.S. Lewis is who immediately springs to mind, at least for me. Screwtape Letters is indeed a great place to start. Surprised by Joy might be another one you’d like to tackle. It’s the story of his own spiritual journey.

  24. September 9, 2009 8:42 am

    Anne Lamott is one of the few Christian apologists I will read. All of her non-fiction is interesting.
    The Screwtape Letters is another Christian book I can stand.
    What Lamott and that particular C.S Lewis have in common is lack of a certain kind of cloying (to me) sentimentality that is rife in the Christian section.

  25. Carol permalink
    September 9, 2009 11:56 am

    I’ve hear great things about Lamott and Kathleen Norris. I haven’t read either one, yet.

  26. Carol permalink
    September 9, 2009 11:56 am

    I wanted to add that I just read Blue Like Jazz and did not like it. Just my two cents.

  27. September 9, 2009 1:01 pm

    I like inspirational books so this sounds nice. I can’t really give you any direction for where to go next, other than C.S. Lewis.

  28. September 9, 2009 3:45 pm

    Florinda, that makes me even more excited! :)

    Terri, I haven’t-that sounds quite interesting, though.

    Bybee, if you say so, I’ll read Norris right away! :) And lol @ 14th cent Lamott-trying to wrap my brain around it!

    Teresa, I have read Screwtape Letters and found it hilarious for sure! Devotional Classics sounds perfect for my geeky heart. ;)

    Jenny, I haven’t-thanks!

    (other) Jenny, I reviewed it at the beginning of the year, in a ridiculously long post that you can find in my ‘review directory.’ ;)

    Kim, I hope you enjoy it. :) For a long time, I haven’t been an organised religion person-I’m trying to ease into it.

    Andi, I had the sam problem with Ray Bradbury!!! Couldn’t listen to Farenheit 451 at all!!!

    Janet, I definitely have my eye on Lewis. :) But it’s hard to know where to begin-there are so many options, so thanks for the advice!

    Jeanne, lmao hehehehe

    Carol, I think I tried Blue Like Jazz at B&N and didn’t like the first few pages.

    Rebecca, I’m thinking I’ll go to C.S. next-turn to the classics! :)

  29. September 9, 2009 5:20 pm

    Anne Lamott is so cool. I just love her viewpoint. She’s so down-to-earth.

  30. September 10, 2009 9:24 am

    Wow, the passages are beautiful – you’re right, she really does know how to create a scene.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a collection of essays (other than David Sedaris’) but I definitely think I should more often. I can’t recommend any Christian books – I’m an atheist – and writing about feeling Jesus and the spirit inside doesn’t appeal to me, personally, but I really love the writing that you’ve quoted here. If I saw it, I’d pick it up to read. :-)

  31. September 10, 2009 9:53 am

    I second A Severe Mercy! It does depend what type of book you’re looking for. For fiction, I recently finished Gilead and it was stunning. If you’re looking for books about Christianity, or about Christian theology, or about a Christian life… it’s different.

    Try AW Tozer, the Pursuit of God, or Knowledge of the Holy.

    Or CS Lewis. :)

  32. September 10, 2009 9:58 am

    Nancy, I agree completely. :)

    Ceri, I hope you enjoy it; as a long-time agnostic, the Jesus bits didn’t bother me. ;)

    Kacie, thanks for all of the recs!

  33. September 10, 2009 3:20 pm

    Anne Lamott is a good writer. I would suggest you start with Mere Christianity for C.S. Lewis. I also think based on what I’ve read of your blog that you would enjoy Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God. Lauren, an orthodox Jew and a rather unorthodox thinker, converts to Christianity and writes about her thoughts along the way.

  34. September 10, 2009 7:15 pm

    Great review. I’ve been wanting to read Lamott, so maybe I’ll pick this one up first.

  35. September 17, 2009 4:24 pm

    Sherry, thanks for the rec-it sounds fascinating!!

    3M, I hope you enjoy it!

  36. Michael Gregory Axt permalink
    February 12, 2011 10:21 am

    I highly recommend the Catholic – Christian novels of Graham Greene, particularly ” The Heart of the Matter,” and ” The Power and the Glory. Inspite of his latter-day agnosticism, Greene in his prime was like a “lost generation” writer with a remarkably insight on the divine. His stories of intrigue, innate human selfishness and the narrow gate to redemption have inspired this postmodernist literary junkie. He treats Christianity as something to be considered by adults with complex emotional dilemmas. Muriel Sparks is another mature Catholic writer that should revived.


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