Singing In Between the Notes x

Anne Lamott is an enigma. She writes with complete candor about her life-experiences. She sometimes offends the sensitivities of church people with her unvarnished remembrances of her journey from atheism to an unashamed confession of faith in Jesus. Her honesty is unsettling for churched people who are huddled behind the barriers, insulated from the un-saved, un-churched masses of humanity.

A poignant example of this is found in Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies” (1999, Anchor Books). Here she discusses her first steps away from a life of heavy drinking, frequent drug use, licentious living and avowed atheism into the netherworld of Christianity as experienced in Christian worship.

What she says about singing is especially interesting. Please look at the following lines closely. I wonder if Anne Lomott would be a believer in Jesus Christ if the hearts of the worshipers had not been where they were when she encountered them!

Ponder these words:

I went back to St. Andrew about once a month. No one tried to con me into sitting down or staying. I always left before the sermon. I loved singing, even about Jesus, but I just didn’t want to be preached at about him. To me, Jesus made about as much sense as Scientology or dowsing. But the church smelled wonderful, like the air had nourishment in it, or like it was composed of these people’s exhalations of warmth and faith and peace.

There were always children running around or being embraced, and a gorgeous stick-thin deaf black girl signing to her mother, hearing the songs and the Scriptures through her mother’s flashing fingers. ….And every other week they brought huge tubs of great food for the homeless families living at the shelter near the canal to the north. I loved this. But it was the singing that pulled me in a split me wide open.

I could sing better here than I ever had before. As part of these people, even though I stayed in the doorway, I did not recognize my voice or know where it was coming from, but sometimes I felt like I could sing forever.

Eventually, a few months after I started coming, I took a seat in one of the folding chairs, off by myself. Then the singing enveloped me. It was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart. There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food. Something inside me that was stiff and rotting would feel soft and tender. Somehow the singing wore down all the boundaries and distinctions that kept me so isolated. Sitting there, standing with them to sing, sometimes so shaky and sick that I felt like I might tip over, I felt bigger than myself, like I was being taken care of, tricked into coming back to life. But I had to leave before the sermon.

Lamott goes on to tell about another series of events, which make up the twists and turns of the spiritual battles taking place for her soul. Many of her choices were not good; but, she did maintain her connection with the Christian community at St. Andrew’s. After describing a series of soul stirring events in which she had an undeniable sense of Jesus’ presence in her life, she continues:

And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling—and it washed over me.

I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels (a metaphor for her sense of Jesus’ presence), and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “x#*x: I quit.” I took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.”

So this is my beautiful moment of conversion.

In subsequent years Anne Lamott’s theology has grown wider and deeper, but the rawness of her confession remains. She is still a bit too far “out there” for some. She is unique in many ways, to say the least. But, she is like us all in one key area:

Her stiff and rotting heart was touched by the mystical affect of believers singing “with the Spirit and with understanding” (See: 1 Corinthians 14:15).

Further reflection on Lamott’s experience has prompted me to ask many questions. Some of these are:

1) Where would Anne Lamott have been without these believers and their songs?

2) How would this grown woman, who felt like a scared little child, ever have felt God’s warm embrace without these believers “singing between the notes”?

3) How can any community of Christians think it is “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18-19), without such singing?

4) How would a church’s “order of worship” be impacted if worship leaders determined to think of the song service as “breath and food” for its worshippers?

5) How can any body of believers or any individual believer think that an attitude of “performance and judgment” with respect to worshipful singing will honor God or impact lives? (See: Colossians 3:16)

One additional point: In these instances, Anne Lamott does not mention the type or title of songs St. Andrews was singing. There was no need, because they would best be described as “Heart Songs”! That which made them special was not their musical style. It was not their original publication date either. The beauty of the lyrics was felt because they gave life to love for God within the hearts from which they flowed.

Oh, that we would learn how to sing in between the notes!

© Bill Williams

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Blogroll, Christian Living, Evangelism, Kingdom Living, Life. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Singing In Between the Notes x

  1. Terri says:

    Ms. Lamont’s words have touched me tonight but I’m not sure how. Nothing I can make a comment about.

  2. Neva Cooper says:

    I have heard other people talk about how her story touched their lives and hearts. She sounds like just the kind of person Jesus would have sought—lost.
    Truly a great post. Oh that we all could “sing between the notes.”

    Peace and prayers, my brother


  3. Donna says:

    Wow…how humbling and inspiring.

  4. Greg England says:

    When people sing “between the notes” to God, it’s the most beautiful music the world has known. There was an elder in the church I attended in high school. His vocal range consisted of one note, but he sang that one note with all his heart and I loved sitting just in front of him on Sundays … just to hear that one note sung between all the other notes.
    I’ve heard of Lamont and read quips from her writing, but now you have me wanting to get some of her books. Thanks.

  5. Nicole says:

    God is Spirit and when we worship we must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Is there any other way? Looks like God took Ann to the right community of worshipers. Beautiful.

  6. JP Manzi says:

    I have seen her books many times, now, Traveling Mercies is a must read. I am sure, with my own journey, I can relate to much of what she is saying. Thanks for the books mention.

  7. Kathy says:

    Music! Music sung from the hearts of worshippers to their King! May we never doubt the impact music has on our souls and hearts. We know God loves music when we stop to listen to his Creation’s songs. No wonder Anne was so touched by the singing of worshipers, sung between the notes.

    I broke into tears, Bill. This snip from her book brought a dear, struggling friend to mind who too finally found and was able to respond to Jesus through music. She through the music she played to accompany various special music events at many of the churches around San Diego county. She continues to battle against the powers of alcoholism, but music always opens the path back for her. Please, pray for my beloved friend and her struggles.

  8. Bill says:

    Your comments concerning this post are deeply appreciated. They have caused me to do some additional thinking about Anne Lomott’s writing. It really resonates, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is her candor. Perhaps it is because she inspires us to candidly look at and share our own lives. I know that I am always challenged to greater authenticity after spending time with the words that she strings together. In this, perhaps, there is a lesson for us all.


  9. Kathy says:

    I think it’s her honesty – her transparency. She doesn’t hide behind facades of perfection. It’s human to want to bury the uglier parts of ourselves and our lives – Lomott tears down the curtains, unearths the imperfections and then shows how she has been scrubbed by Jesus. Admirable on her part? Yes. Difficult for most of us? Definitely!!

  10. Kristine says:

    This article on Anne Lammott is a reminder of all the blessings we recieve in this world…and our connectedness to one another, the synchronicity, the interwoven fibers of time, destiny, and love…how grateful I am to be alive today and even more grateful that the experiences I am living through may someday be of assistance to others…the returns on an account well overdue.
    I do not refer to monetary and materialistic items, instead I speak of God’s gifts not always seen.

    While my life may be spent in a recovery program, I have a daughter that is in another program at the same facility. She is recieving help that I was unable to give her. Being human means having flaws, defects, and problems…in order to bring us closer to the “Higher Power, Great Creator, God, Great Spirit”, or whatever you may choose to call the Universal Code of Love…

    Cheers to Ms. Lamott…my unseen mentor, poet…lover of life, one woman among many, that drinks from the same spring.

    The cup is full…always!
    With Love to all. Keep good thoughts for me. Kristine

  11. Kristine says:

    PS… the book is “One Bird At A Time”, the first one I read, if I remember the title correctly.

  12. Jennifer says:

    These last few months of my life have been so difficult and a few weeks ago I attended a Saturday night service at a different church. The lights were low and I just wanted to be there, receive, and not be noticed or approached by anyone. The first 20 minutes was just singing and it was such a gift to me. It was the most blessed part of the service where I felt the Lord’s presence and comfort. I truly identified much more with Anne’s writing after this experience, and was only reminded of her words that I read over Christmas when I read your post. Thanks for giving her good words airtime. She is a much needed breath of fresh air in the churches.

  13. Rex says:

    I love reading stories like this. Thanks for sharing!

    Glad you stopped by, Rex. I’m sure you would enjoy reading Anne Lamott’s works.

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