Friday, October 17, 2008

Anne Lamott Translates Luke 2:39-52

"What on earth did Mary do when Jesus was thirteen?"

Here's what I think: She occasionally started gathering rocks.

If we take the incarnation seriously, then even good old Jesus was thirteen once, a human thirteen-year-old. He learned by doing, as we have to. He had to go through adolescence. It must have been awful sometimes. Do you know anyone for whom adolescence was consistently okay? But in his case, we don't know for sure. We see him earlier, in the Bible, at twelve, when he's sneaking to the elders in the Temple. He's great with the elders, just as Sam is always fabulous with other grown-ups. They can't believe he's such an easygoing kid, with such good manners. In the Temple, Jesus says things so profound that the elders are amazed. "Who's this kid's teacher?" they wonder. They don't know that Jesus' teacher was the Spirit.

But at the same time he's blowing the elders away, how is Jesus treating his parents? I'll tell you: He's making them crazy. He's ditched them. They can't find him for three days. Some of you know what it's like to not find you kid for three hours. You die. Mary and Joseph have looked everywhere, in the market, at the video arcade. Finally they find him, in the last place they thought to look--the Temple. And immediately, he mouths off: Oh, sorry, sorry, I was busy doing all this other stuff, my father's work. Like, Joseph, you're not my real father--you're not the boss of me. I don't even have to listen to you.

And what is Mary doing this whole time?

Mary's got a rock in her hand.

I turned around. Sam sat grimly, and I fixed him with gimlet eyes, pinning him to the seat until he could see the error of his ways.

It seems idiotic for Sam to challenge me so often, since he has no income to speak of, and he can't drive. I looked at the face in the altar, toothless and muckled, with its folded-over mouth. In the alder branches above me, a little gray bird flitted about, modest but melodious. The leaves of the alder quivered. I started to miss Sam. He's every single good thing, including honest, and openly questioning and angry, that I love so much. The other day he said, with enormous hostility, "We are the only family that doesn't display its china." I responded nicely that we don't have any china and he said, "That's my point."

The hills behind me were close, curvy and feminine. The quaking leaves of the alder sounded like rain against a skylight.

I looked over at my bad boy. he was staring out the window with resigned misery, as if he were on his way to the dentist. I thought about stoning him. Jesus would have said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, and tax collectors, and thirteen-year-olds," which means, "You are totally pissing me off." And he'd have said this right before he picked up a rock.

I bet he had a good arm, being a carpenter and all. I bet he could take a kid out at 150 yards. I thought of Sam's most infuriating habits; how snotty he can act, how entitled, his clothes and towels always dropped on the floor; the way he answers the phone, sounding like Henry Kissinger and only pretending to take down messages.

What a mess we are, I thought. But this is usually where any hope of improvement begins, acknowledging the mess. . . .


pages 98,99,100 of Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

It's copyrighted, I'm sure, so please buy the book, or check it out from the library--there's an audio version, a reading by the author. Don't tell her I gave so much away here, please.


Here's how my 12-year-old has to read it in her fundamentalist Christian school. Which gives her cause, she feels, to act like Lamott's Sam or Lamott's Mary's Jesus.


Check out Lingamish's rendition today, which he must call "Cyber-Psalm 51." Read it, and see if you can figure out why.

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