Religion has been creeping back into my life lately. At JFK on Wednesday night while waiting on a delayed flight I picked up, then put down, then picked up again and finally bought a book called Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. I’ve read and enjoyed other books by her in the past but my hesitation was because this one had “faith” in the title and was filed under Religion. Four days later and I can’t put it down. I had nothing to worry about – she throws Jesus in here and there but she also says “fuck”, binges on apple fritters and could hold her own in a sarcasm duel with David Sedaris. Hot on the heels of the John Edwards scandal (this hasn’t made the UK press – I only picked it up when I was watching the news on the screen in the back of a NYC cab and momentarily wondered if I was watching spoof TV), I am glad America has a positive face for liberal Christianity in Anne Lamott.
Religion has been present in my life more often than not although I don’t consider myself particularly religious—at most a cultural Christian. Both husband and I were lured to church by our mothers in childhood, him to C of E, me to Presbyterian. Mine used breakfast at Mister Donut as the bribe. In my early teens my girlfriend and I attended church youth group to guarantee our spot in an annual ski trip to North Carolina and because there were boys. Then I went through an odd couple of evangelical-ish years in high school courtesy of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. My mother and lapsed-Catholic father didn’t seem to notice my new found interest in the Bible and generally being a judgmental prat. I guess when you’re the parents of a teenager you can imagine worse things and choose your battles.
And then there was a dry spell until husband and I started attending a zen center in Los Angeles—one of those things, like therapy, that seems much more plausible in L.A. Back in England we went through another dry spell until the Cotswolds. I’m not sure how to explain the return to the fold except that church in a small rural area is a much more natural extension of daily life than it seems in urban places. It has something to do with the beauty of nature all around you all the time, and the history and beauty of the churches themselves, some from Saxon times, doesn’t hurt.
This morning husband and I went to church in our Cotswold town. My only complaint about C of E is that there isn’t much spare time for contemplation. You’re up and down and regimented to the minute by that little pamphlet telling you what to do next. But whether sitting zazen or reciting the Apostles Creed, monkey mind can still get you. No discipline seems to have figured that out as I proved today when I found myself thinking about a Jack Nicholson movie in the middle of a hymn. Oh, and hymns are definitely better than chanting, especially for someone tone deaf like me. It’s my only safe haven to let it rip since husband has forbidden me from singing along in the car.
After church today a man bounded over to introduce himself. I’ve noticed this happens a lot in church. People are friendly, which is still startling after a few years in London. He was dressed casually in a striped shirt, pullover sweater, pants and sandals. We chatted about Liverpool where he lives—he was on holiday in the Cotswolds—and where husband grew up. The Anglican Cathedral around the corner from where husband once lived? Yes, he knew it well. After more questions about us, during which husband managed to drop in a few “hells,” I asked him what he did in my best my best polite, inquisitive church voice.
“I’m the bishop of Liverpool,” he replied.