It was just a normal Tuesday afternoon at the office. Lent was quickly approaching, and I was racking my brain trying to put together our spiritual formation class for this season of the year.
Reading spiritual memoir? Some individual writing? Group spiritual direction?
I just wasn’t sure. . . . until I remembered my fondness for an author I’d begun reading back in seminary: Anne Lamott.
She might be the one, I thought, to bring even more spiritual and emotional honesty into our congregation. And, then I knew, yes, this was what we would do.
I knew Lamott was not for the prude or extra holy but I had forgotten many of the specific details of her story which include graphic accounts of drug abuse, underage drinking and an abortion.
But when the flyer went out about this class called “Spiritual Stories” with Lamott as our guide, the word on the street around the church was: “I can’t believe what OUR pastor is asking us to read.”
Many who chose to attend the class confessed that they’d loved this book for years, but thought it would never be appropriate for church.
The thing is when you read Lamott, you either love or hate her. There’s not much in between. Yet, in our case, I think those gathered on Wednesdays nights for the last several weeks are loving her more and more as we go.
It’s true, Traveling Mercies, is not for those who want to pretend that “Life is always great and knowing Jesus just makes it all better,” (If you did, you’d be rather disappointed by page two).
Rather this book is for those who are wading in the deep waters of grief, failure, and suffering and find themselves staring at the sky and wondering “Why??” It’s a book for the broken in spirit. It’s a book for those who truly want to be faithful and authentic at the same time and need some encouragement.
During the time of our Lent study, the group and I cried together over the deep pain of loss. We talked much about our negative experiences in more traditional faith communities. And, we’ve said, “Yes, yes, that is exactly how I feel, and I never had words to describe it just like this!”
The format of the class was simple.
We’ve gathered to hear some words of devotion and prayer, we’ve talked through passages within the week’s reading, and done some memoir writing of our own on topics such as, “Who is God to you?” “What was a time when you found it hard to forgive someone?” and “Tell about a time when you felt deeply lost.”
One of the most profound moments came for me when our discussion centered around forgiveness and what it means to be broken as a result of life’s harsh realities.
One class member said, “When I was attending another congregation, it seemed that in group meetings like this one I’d always be the only sharing a problem. Everyone else seemed to be always trying to do each other talking about how great their lives were (when of course this was not always true). I was tired of the only one being honest until I found this church. Here, I feel I can be myself, problems and all and surprisingly, I found all of you are seeking to do the same.”
My pastoral heart leap when I hear these words. This is exactly why church exists. To journey authentically alongside one another in Christian community sharing broken parts of our lives as well as what is good.
As for my church, I’m thankful for the ways her gift of beautiful words has given us more beautiful ways to speak to each other. And I’m hopeful our all those of us who participated in this group: that we will keep sharing spiritual stories just as Lamott has taught us.