From the E. Peevie archives: a review of Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott.
Read this book. You will not be disappointed.
At least, you will not be disappointed if you force yourself from the beginning not to analyze whether or not the author is a Real Christian—you know, one who doesn’t swear (at least out loud, in public, most of the time, except perhaps in traffic); who votes Republican (or keeps quiet about voting Democratic); who would never refer to God with a female pronoun; and who wears Reformed theology like a badge of spiritual correctness.
Get past those extra-Biblical requirements and you will find yourself immersed in the joy, grief, fear, silliness, and wonder of Anne Lamott’s unconventional journey of faith. It’s funny, gently self-effacing, and often unfiltered. It will remind you not to take yourself too seriously, which is always a good thing. And it will remind you to take God more seriously, to discover God in the details of your life—indeed, to encounter him even in the bathroom.
Lamott has a gift for pulling capital-L Life Lessons from mundane vicissitudes. With poetic prose and right-on-the-money metaphors, she invites us to enter into her quirky world of irregular moles, pesky addictions, enemies Lite, and butt envy. Lamott uncovers wisdom in the most unlikely places.
She doesn’t pretty up her conversion under duress (“I was not willing to give up a life of shame and failure without a fight”), and transparently hangs out her weakness and lack of faith like spiritual dirty laundry. But this emotional honesty is a gift to those of us who don’t have our acts together half as much as we like to pretend.
Lamott’s lack of pretense and her tiny tendency toward hyperbole lend themselves to comedic chagrin and saucy confessions which border on sacrilege: “I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”
She has an in-box for God, in which she deposits terse, scribbled pleas for God’s grace and intervention. She knows two good prayers: “Help!” and “Thanks!” She tackles real life in a way which reassures you that you are not the only one who eats a random pound of M&Ms at one sitting.
On self-pity: “I hate being the kind of person who tries to get someone with stage four metastatic lung cancer to feel sorry for her just because she has a headache. But… God loves you the same whether you’re being elegant or not.”
On how faith gets you through scary times: “In between symptoms I felt pockets of trust and surrender, as if I had gone into total free fall and then landed gently after a drop of just a foot and a half.”
On forgiveness: “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
Having suffered, Lamott offers realistic compassion: “God isn’t there to take away our suffering or our pain, but to fill it with his presence.”
Having imperfect relationships with her imperfect parents, she finds and passes along little moments of grace: “I am learning very slowly to savor the minutes between us that work, that cut through my life-long hunger for a more perfect mother.”
Lamott writes poignantly about grief, addiction, recovery, prayer, parents, parenting, friendship, and Baggies of dimes. Reading this book is like eating homemade macaroni and cheese—it’s filling and comforting and it makes you want more.