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Healing wisdom

Anne Lamott offers solace for anxieties of modern life

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Anne Lamott's latest dispatch from northern California offers up gentle guidance for the dispirited. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair is Lamott's practical response to the existential challenges of modern life.

It's a meditation on how to generate hope and restore meaning in an anxiety-riddled era "of polar bears floating out to sea on scraps of ice."

Stitches is a companion book to Lamott's 2012 best-seller, Help, Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Her books fly off of the shelves because loyal readers can count on her for solace.

She's a wise owl in a period when the landscape is littered with nattering crows. Like any gifted writer, her prose improves with a second read.

Lamott's 15 books, which include novels and non-fiction, are the kind of titles readers hold onto possessively. Better to buy a friend her own copy than part with a cherished paperback of Lamott's droll advice to writers in Bird by Bird.

As the daughter of atheists, Lamott rebelled in the only way a California flower child could -- she embraced Jesus. The devout, yet progressive, Christian embraces this inherent contradiction. She's pro-choice, a feminist and gay-positive. This stance leads to tense discussions with other Christians and sets Lamott apart. She also doesn't believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Lamott's modern definition of God appears in the first chapter of Stitches called Beginning: "If I use the word 'God' I sure don't mean an old man in the sky who loves the occasional goat sacrifice. I mean 'God' as Jane Kenyon describes God: 'I am food on the prisoner's plate... / the patient gardener / of the dry and weedy garden... / the stone step, / the latch, and the working hinge.' I mean God as shorthand for The Good, for the animated energy of love; for Life, for the light that radiates from within people and from above; in the energies of nature, even in our rough, messy lives."

Stitches revisits some familiar themes explored in Lamott's previous work: hope, grace, goodness, gratitude, wonder, the Golden Rule, recovery, forgiveness and faith.

The weekend after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, Lamott reveals her lack of craftiness while teaching two Sunday school students how to make angels from coffee filters.

"I always end up telling the kids the same things: that they are chosen, that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it," she writes. "I ask the kids at Sunday school if they want to talk about what has happened, or if they would rather make art. One hundred per cent of the time, they would rather make art."

In the same chapter, Lamott says she subscribes to the great truth attributed to Emily Dickinson: hope inspires the good to reveal itself. "This is almost all I ever need to remember. Gravity and sadness yank us down, and hope gives us a nudge to help one another get back up or sit with the fallen on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity," she writes.

The depth of Lamott's personal experience dealing with grief is evident throughout the book, but never more so than in the chapter she dedicates to her late friend Pammy, who died at 37:

"Sometimes, after a disaster or great loss, when we are hanging on for dear life, we struggle to understand how we will ever be able to experience cohesion and safety again."

Stitches doesn't offer up trite solutions for those who seek cohesion and safety in a turbulent world. Instead, Lamott humbly accompanies her readers along the way, generously offering up her hopeful presence as we all strive together to return to a sense of equanimity.


Patricia Dawn Robertson is a freelance journalist based in Wakaw, Sask.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2013 A1

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