In her book, Traveling Mercies, Lamott chronicles her journey of faith with characteristic quirkiness and irreverence. She’s a tender observer, though, of the human condition — her own especially, and in the passage below, she describes a dark period of her life and an encounter with Bill, an Episcopal priest — also quirky, irreverent, and tender.

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Then one afternoon in my dark bedroom, the cracks webbed all the way through me, I believed that I would die soon, from a fall or an overdose. I knew there was an afterlife but felt that the odds of my living long enough to get into heaven were almost nil. They couldn’t possibly take you in the shape I was in. I could no longer imagine how God loved me.

But in my dark bedroom, out of nowhere it crossed my mind to call the new guy at St. Stephen’s.

So I did. He was there, and I started to explain that I was losing my mind, but he interrupted to say with real anguish that he was sorry but he had to leave. He literally begged me to call back in the morning, but I couldn’t form any words in reply. It was like in the movies when the gangster is blowing bubbles through the bullet hole in his neck. There was this profound silence, except for my bubbling. Then he said, “Listen. Never mind. I’ll wait. Come on in.”

It took me forty-five minutes to walk there, but this skinny middle-aged guy was still in his office when I arrived. My first impression was that he was smart and profoundly tenderhearted. My next was that he was really listening, that he could hear what I was saying, and so I let it all tumble out — the X-rated motels, my father’s death, a hint that maybe every so often I drank too much.

I don’t remember much of his response, except that when I said I didn’t think God could love me, he said, “God has to love you. That’s God’s job” . . .

. . . He was about the first Christian I ever met whom I could stand to be in the same room with. Most Christians seemed almost hostile in their belief that they were saved and you weren’t. Bill said it bothered him too, but you had to listen to what was underneath their words. What did it mean to be saved, I asked, although I knew the word smacked of Elmer Gantry for both of us.

“You don’t need to think about this,” he said.

“Just tell me.”

I guess it’s like discovering you’re on the shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much. But Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker, ‘Ill take her place on the shelf. Let her go outside again.'”

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, pp. 41-43