Sunday, January 31, 2010

Anne Lamott and Religious Inquiry

Recently I discussed Anne Lamott with a few avid readers. We had all come to the session having read, Traveling Mercies and Plan B (Further Thoughts on Faith).

Here are a few of the quotes that struck me most for the teaching session and a few notes of my own mixed in.

From TM, Forgiveness, "I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish" (131).

From PlanB, holy of holies 101, "I know that with writing, you start where you are, and you flail around for a while, and if you keep doing it, every day you get closer to something good" (61).

I like Anne because I can read her stuff in chunks. She talks about small short assignments for each of us as writers and she gives us short assignments as readers. I'll be honest, I struggle with 300 page novels. I'm ashamed of the novels I don't finish. But with Anne, I check off a story and before I know it, I have checks next to each story and the book is complete.

I re-read her stuff more than most books on my shelf. I only do this with my favorite and most compelling words, like the Bible. She is worth a second and fifth read.

From TM, Sister, "Most of what we do in wordly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under. But in baptism, in lakes and rain and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that's a little sloppy because at the same time it's also holy, and absurd. It's about surrender, giving in to all those things we can't control; it's a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched (231).

Anne’s real. She tells the truth. When I say truth, I don’t mean to say that she is the final word on much of anything. That’s no longer my definition of truth, if it ever was. Truth is what is real and honest, what grapples with the dark places and courageously tells the story not as we would like it to be or wish it would be, but as it is for us today. You know when you are hearing this truth and you know when you are not. Frederick Buechner says that writing is simple, sit down to the typewriter and open a vein. That’s pretty much true. Let your soul come flooding out and see if anyone has something to say back. I hope that faithfully we are not waiting for the world to respond, though that may happen, but trusting that God will respond to our truth.

Listen to an interview with Anne Lamott at:

Friday, January 22, 2010


I've never read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, okay, sue me. This Annie Dillard classic has been bandied about among people I know and admire for a couple of decades. But I felt like I heard a big piece of the book when a friend, Laura C, took from the book that we live at the backwaters—that back and forth at the ocean where the water is headed out to sea and headed inland, always back and forth. She did that kind of motion like when you are icing a cake, big strokes back and forth. I remember using chocolate icing as a child for this purpose and I also remember that I never knew when to stop. It felt like I should go on spreading for eternity. And that's what the ocean does with its' waves and what the river does with the water that meets the sea.

On a Sunday in August, I woke up early in the morning. This was after a wedding that I had officiated, my first. I was not drunk or hungover, but I was drunk with the sense of being "on" all weekend, talking a lot, trying to well you know, behave. Heck, the 41st President and his wife had been present at the wedding. It was a lot to take in and a lot to preside over. But Sunday morning was mine and I was preparing to do what I had been waiting for all weekend. I jogged down to the marina in Kennebunkport, Maine, just a mile or so from our hotel and I rented a kayak and paddled it upstream, up the Kennebunk River.

This was what I had been waiting for all weekend, some time to myself. This was my time to think about Maine and this river, my family and Jesus and how much I enjoyed being priest for those gathered throughout the weekend. I felt like it was just me and the Holy Spirit using the water behind the big yachts as eddies, or small pockets of calm water, to navigate and then ferry across the upstream current and paddle hard forward so that I could slowly and steadily make my way through the town center, under the rickety old wooden bridge and into quieter parts of the river upstream. Once past the bridge I was about a mile and a half away from the ocean and moving farther away. I would move back and forth from river right to river left, wherever the smoothest line of travel seemed to be. I tried to make quiet, subtle, yet powerful strokes, powered by good body rotation where my shoulders twisted and swung forward looking for a smooth place to catch the water and poke the paddle below the surface. I'd make my strokes fairly short as not much power is produced once the paddle has come even with the hips and then I would pull the paddle blade from the water and swing back for another stroke, while the power phase was occurring on the other side of the kayak and my body.

I navigated the small rapid that was present at this particular tide-level, the one near the practice putting green at the golf course where we had played a round two days before. I was really getting the hang of this craft now and having the quietest calmest fun imaginable. Two more miles I paddled up the river, navigating mostly a steady upstream flow of water, but on two occasions some rocks and rapids that took a bit of planning and strategy. I waved to golfers and thought how glad I was to be in the water now rather than on the grassy fairways. Golf had been fun, but this was better.

I dreamed that I would make it to where the river was no longer navigable, but I had no idea where that might be and finally at a left hand bend in the river, and a cabin up on the river left bank, I turned my craft around and began my return. Now I could really move as the downstream steady flow seemed to rocket the kayak forward. There were no waves, only the sense of the people mover at the airport moving underneath the plastic between me and the water. Before I knew it, I was darting under the rickety wooden bridge which marked the town center and I already had a plan that I would go past the marina and out to sea. For all the fun I'd had, here was the best part--the backwaters, where the waves of the ocean met the river. I was flanked by the mounds of boulders that were placed at the inlet to slow down the oceans force so that crafts could calmly navigate the river. I paddled past these boulders and into the open waters. To my right was the beach that we had played at yesterday with hundreds of other tourists. Man, was that water cold, even on a sunny August afternoon. To my left, as I went further over the waves, and mind you these were not breaking waves, but choppy rocking waves that the kayak seemed to roll over as if it were exactly what the plastic had been poured and molded to do. To my left was St. Ann's By the Sea. I'd thought it so beautiful all the times I had gazed on it in the last four days, but no vantage matched my final view, this view from the ocean. The church was on it's own peninsula that jutted out into the Atlantic. The grass in the front yard was as green as the 13th fairway at Augusta National. The stones which shaped this chapel seemed to be placed perfectly and awkwardly, not with precision, but with love in a kind of jumble. Various amounts of concrete and mortar could be seen between the stones and it was as pretty as a gray and brown colored building could ever be. This was the pride of this small New England port town and I could see why. Upon seeing the structure, I remembered all that we had done there the day before. Congregants promised to watch over the fledgling couple. I said a prayer for the newly married and the beauty of this morning, the gift from God to put me right there in the particular moment in the backwaters where time seemed to stand still and the waters stood still not knowing which H2O's belonged to the river and which molecules belonged to the ocean. I turned my kayak 180 degrees and headed back to the marina. My Maine vacation was complete and I could turn to other things.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Little River Trail Run, January 9, 2010

Garmin Connect - Activity Details for Untitled

When racing on Saturday I felt alive. The morning event was a 10 mile trail race on a course I know well. Inauspiciously, the day began at midnight. I could not sleep any longer. I was jacked up and wired--tapped in to the work ahead. But sleep or no sleep my lungs and sinuses were working well. For once, I was not ailing from an upper respiratory infection. Despite the insomnia I knew I could crack a good one.

I ran easy for half a mile, down the Little River entry drive, down the walking path, down the fire road. I heard Ringo say, "Move Up," but I knew to be patient. I was somewhere between 10th and 15th position. No fear and easy breathing.

When the course went left, I did not die. "Go Left and Die" is a scary rapid on the Middle Green River, but going left for me meant something far from death, instead the true beginning of my effort when I could tap into my race plan. I surged forward with my first planned mile at an increased pace. Up and over the steep hill passing the accomplished hill climber who buried me last summer in New Hampshire. Duncan ran further ahead and I passed him too. By the time we turned right swiftly skirting the many ice patches, I was in fourth.

I could see Ben Hovis leading, James Pearce following, Mitch McLeod in third. Down, down, down to the river we darted. My mile ended in 5:37. I felt okay, but ready to ease back a bit. Luckily, the front three were easing up a bit. I stayed on their heals on the bank of the river. River right, that is, as one faces downstream. The terrain was frozen and fast, crunchy and sticky. My lugs dug in and I felt secure. The runners up ahead looked a bit sloppy and unsure of footing, surely what was keeping me close to these fast runners with moderate effort.

Short and quick up the steep hill away from the banks of the river. Letting them gap me rather than red line lungs and legs. I'd catch them at the top in the long and winding pathway back out to the road. I did reel them in though Ben began to gap James and Mitch. I tried not to care. My work would not and could not begin again until the next water stop, at about the five mile mark.

This was the easy time of the race. Measured. Disciplined. Care-free. Paradoxes, yet somehow true. Over the dry bridges, along river right again and bracing for the stairs. Don't move up too early. Don't red-line on the steep stairs up. As we ascended, I could see that Mitch was laboring. Gave me a chance to ease back and plan a pass the moment we turned left and off the single track onto the short stretch of fire road. I passed him quickly on the road and darted right and hit LAP amidst heard but not seen cheers for "Monk." Quickly, I was beginning to reel in 1st and 2nd, but they seemed to speed up upon sensing my shortening line. Now, my second mile of increased effort became about staying with them. When we went left off the trail and onto the dirt road, they went even faster. I know I was pushing, but they were still separating from me. At the least I hoped we were dropping any podium pursuers with this hard mile which was measured at 6:40. Pretty good for this stage of the race. My mind calculated that I was still averaging better than 6:30s, but no time to think about splits in more detail. My strong sense was that my legs were taking me faster over this path of earth than my previous three efforts in 2006, 2007, and 2009. But would I fade? The doubt wanted to creep in, but I kept it at bay and turned my focus back to the race plan of three by mile pickups. I had no plans to fade.

Duncan passed me. I passed Ben. Lows and highs, but I was focused on the farm in the distance at the 7.5 mile mark. I could not see too well as I approached. My eyes felt frozen and I think portions of them were. Slightly blind, I gathered myself through the two throbbing dips. These gullies were punishing, but yet they marked the end of my recovery period. I came out of the second dip, hit LAP and got to work in the next gear I could find. It was there and I locked in the clutch and set to work remembering that this hill had been my breaking point last year to Russell as he pulled in behind and readied himself for a pass. It would not go down like that in 2010. No fourth place would pull me in on this day.

I saw red in the distance and was disoriented. Was he ahead or behind? No matter. I could only control my own destiny. Pull red in or gap the crimson clad torso. It made no difference. Until I reached the stone walkway and the road crossing the mile would not be complete and I had many steps to cover before my race strategy could be realized. Up and down and up the very nasty teeth of that hill--the one with two trail choices at the top. I went left without any course markings. I knew the way, my legs have probably covered it 30 times racing or training. Then it was time for the long winding stair steps down, back and forth, back and forth. I could see the leaders ahead at one point. The two were separated from one another and neither seemed too far away--maybe a minute, hard to say.

The watch vibrated 6:58. Given the hills I was very pleased. I imagine that previous years that mile has registered nearly eight minutes.

I was done if I thought too much about it, but this is the time of the race we train for. I knew I had about ten minutes of pain to endure. A time equivalent to a Lower Wormhole in the Carolina North Forest and I'd be done. Get after it. Hold third place and run my P.R. for the course.

I could hardly see now with freezing water on my lenses. Fastest way to warmth was to run faster. I pushed and pushed and pushed some more. After coming near the asphalt walkway with less than a mile to go, I could feel myself losing concentration--slipping into that late race coma. The trail is difficult to pick up through here and I was getting sloppy. PAY ATTENTION. Watch your marks. Get home fast.

I passed the last road crossing and high-fived Zap. It felt good to see her bright self and it reminded me of other Little River races in years gone by. I passed what I assumed was a 7K runner from the other race, but he was moving fast, maybe a 10 miler off course? No time to wonder. I was not moving fast, but I did my best and attempted a sprint into the chute. I closed my eyes and it felt so good to protect them from the cold after an hour of exposure. I was so tired and so cold and so happy with 66:30 and third place.