Two phenomenal quotations from the phenomenal Mary Karr. The first one comes from the unbelievably great essay “Facing Altars” which is included in her poetry collection, Sinners Welcome, ht PW:

People usually (always?) come to church as they do to prayer and poetry—through suffering and terror. Need and fear…

The faithless contenders for prayer’s relief who sometimes ask me for help praying (still a comic notion) often say it seems hypocritical to turn to God only now during whatever crisis is forcing them toward it – a kid with leukemia, say, husband lost in the World Trade Center. But no one I know has ever turned to God any other way. As the old adage says, there are no atheists in foxholes. Maybe saints turn to God from innate righteousness. The rest of us tend to show up holding out a tin cup. The church I attended said it best on the banner stretched across it’s front: SINNERS WELCOME.

And this one is from her memoir Lit, and describes the aftermath of a furious exchange with her mother, ht MZ:

When I stop speaking, I see my terrified eighty-year-old Mother, small and white-haired. She’s collapsed on a recliner, using a magnifying glass to read the labels of pill bottles, sobbing. She’s looking for her nitroglycerin tablets.

Which I retrieve for her.

And that’s how I find my sinfulness in all its ugliness–not in prayer but in its absence. Without God, any discomfort makes me capable of attacking with piety the defenseless–including a frail, confused old lady who’s lost her home of fifty years. And it’s for this type of realization that God–in His infinite wisdom–created mirrors. I put Mother to bed and catch a glimpse of us as I pull the covers up to her chin. I’m saying I’m so sorry, and she’s claiming to understand.