“Here we are, older, scared, numb on some days, enraged on others, with even less trust than we had a year ago.” So begins Anne Lamott’s Dusk Night Dawn: On Revival and Courage, and doesn’t that just about sum up where some/most/all of us are? Right here, in the strained middle of everything that has happened to us this year, personally and as a country.
Because besides the chaos of the external world, haven’t we all endured our share of chaos in our families, with our friends, in our homes? The places we’ve always considered sanctuary have held up the weight of burden upon burden this year, and the roof is sagging. Maybe it’s leaking. Maybe it’s darned near collapsing.
Anne Lamott meets us in this space in Dusk Night Dawn, a collection of short essays that take the anxieties and crises of our lives and squish them together with grace and laughter in an attempt to remind us just how we might be able to keep going on, despite everything being this basket of heavy, wet laundry we keep toting around.
Bungee Jumping with Anne Lamott
If you aren’t familiar with Anne Lamott, she’s a delightfully funny, wise, unorthodox follower of Jesus who is totally honest about her shortcomings. She is swift to point out how God’s all-encompassing grace and love seems to show up for us, even when it maybe isn’t the message we’d hoped to receive right in the moment.
Lamott has this stunning ability to root herself on earth while simultaneously bungee jumping into the ethereal. And when we strap on for a tandem jump with her, the sticky reality she provides keeps us from getting too lost in the abstract. Reality is where grace grows skin and slips on overalls. With her self-deprecating humor and personal anecdotes from childhood, alcoholism, marriage, friendship, teaching Sunday school, and getting a pedicure, Lamott explores subjects like the contents and health of our souls, fear, repentance, dread, loss, and continuing to find reasons and ways to live in the face of all that’s tragic.
Lamott’s willingness to be vulnerable and honest about where she’s been while always acknowledging God’s goodness in contrast is one of the qualities about her work that makes her so endearing. Lamott writes, “I would rarely be in conformity with the divine’s huge crazy love, so I just prayed, Help me start walking in your general direction,” and “Jesus is big on people evolving, and all organisms have an innate tendency to evolve toward improvement. I seemed to be the outlier,” and “God has unconditional love for everyone, whereas I tend to fall a bit short in that regard.”
It’s Just Kind of Hard Right Now, You Know?
“You steadfastly love and serve everyone, see people through tribulation, savor the relief, and give thanks. Then boing—a new setback. It’s like tucking an octopus into bed at night: new arms keep popping out.”
Seriously, Lord, I just took care of that one thing, and now here’s a new thing. How much can one girl handle? The secret to keep going is of course to just keep going, to keep returning to love, to turn again and again back to kindness and generosity, to reunite with friends and family, to laugh. “Kindness anywhere gives me hope; it changes us,” Lamott says.
“People like to say that we cannot forgive others until we forgive ourselves. Isn’t that nice? People like to say all sorts of stupid bumper-sticker things that aren’t true and that in fact can be shaming, such as that God never gives us more than we can handle. What a crock. (My friend Mary says, in response, that you should never give God any idea of how much you might be able to bear. Lowball Him, like a trainer at the gym who thinks you might be able to lift a heavier weight. Say that you injured your lower back doing that once. Hint at liability.)”
In the midst of all that we really can’t handle, Lamott keeps pointing us back to the Jesus she loves, the Jesus that shows us the way through suffering, the Jesus that just keeps on loving us, no matter what.
Revival Looks a Lot Like Nature
As someone who finds great peace and resonance with the Holy Spirit through the natural world, Lamott’s meditations on finding God in Creation stood out to me as particularly beautiful in this collection. If we’re feeling disconnected, weary, and heavy-laden, nature unburdens, renews our sense of wonder and curiosity, and reconnects us with God.
“I once brought my Sunday school kids a nautilus shell, because if you want to help kids fall in love with God, help them fall in love with nature,” Lamott writes in “Snail Hymn.” She continues, “Taking kids outside to love God in nature is just about the most Jesusy thing we can do. Jesus was nearly always outside with His disciples or alone with the stars. To take kids to a beach, even on that is littered, is to bring them to an altar, a big one, surrounded by the blue-gray ocean billowing outward like a skirt, flecked with sunlight, like foil or diamonds.”
With so much that feels uncertain, Lamott writes, “The earth is faith. It will hold. Rooting ourselves in the earth that supports us leads to our being rooted in the faith that we are not alone, that we are connected to all of this, to the fabulous humus underneath us, the nourishment of our best if paltry love.”
Anne Lamott is the kind of soul I like to chum around with. She reminds us that we’re all in this together, that we can indeed work to save the world, that maybe we ought to stop taking ourselves so seriously. And laugh, would ya, because, “Laughter is the breeziest breeze of them all; laughter is grace exhaling bubbly breath.”
Laugh and weep and find some hope for revival and courage in Dusk Night Dawn.