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Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (1999)

di Anne Lamott

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4,270642,284 (4.04)64
From the bestselling author ofOperating InstructionsandBird by Birdcomes a chronicle of faith and spirituality that is at once tough, personal, affectionate, wise and very funny. With an exuberant mix of passion, insight, and humor, Anne Lamott takes us on a journey through her often troubled past to illuminate her devout but quirky walk of faith. In a narrative spiced with stories and scripture, with diatribes, laughter, and tears, Lamott tells how, against all odds, she came to believe in God and then, even more miraculously, in herself. She shows us the myriad ways in which this sustains and guides her, shining the light of faith on the darkest part of ordinary life and exposing surprising pockets of meaning and hope. Whether writing about her family or her dreadlocks, sick children or old friends, the most religious women of her church of the men she's dated, Lamott reveals the hard-won wisdom gathered along her path to connectedness and liberation.… (altro)
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I do not at all understand the mystery of grace--only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.

Traveling Mercies is a collection of autobiographical essays by Anne Lamott in which she explores her life without God, her road to faith, and her continuing struggle to live a life worthy of the beliefs she holds. It is not the story of her life, there are uncovered gaps that we know are there, but it is the story of her soul, and that, I would argue, is more important.

With a little touch of Erma Bombeck, and an ability to look at the ugly and petty, along with the sublime of her life, she achieves a lot in terms of inspiring without resorting to even a moment of preaching. I love her descriptions of the people she has met along her journey: her best friend, Pammy, the elderly black church member, Mary Williams, who gives her bags of dimes to help her through her broke (and sometimes broken) days; her father, whose death devastated her life, and her son, Sam, who colors it.

Some of her words seem written just for me. I lost my father and mother two months apart in 1994 and all these years later I feel the homesickness for them in ways I cannot convey to anyone:

Twenty years ago. For twenty years I have ached to go back home, when there was nobody there to whom I could return.

I believe she has tapped the code to grief, a kind of spector that comes and goes in your life, but never entirely dies away:

All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I've discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it."

and,

Sometimes grief looks like narcolepsy.

But, lest you think this is a book about death or grief, I will share the following except, which will prove that this is just a book about insight, humanity, and grace.

I can't imagine anything but music that could have brought about this alchemy. Maybe it's because music is about as physical as it gets; your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We're walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn't get to any other way.

( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Traveling Mercies : Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott (2000)
  sharibillops | May 20, 2022 |
I like that this book is written in a memoir anecdote style.

I like that while Anne's God looks like Jesus, she understands that we all have different images of what God looks like to us so she doesn't get all preachy about it.

I love her idea about God's inbox! Writing what she's stressing out about / needs help with or an answer for down on a piece of paper and putting it in a box and waiting for God's reply! I'm going to have to test that one out.

I love her two prayers. "Help! Help! Help!" and "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

I liked what she said about how all we need to do for someone in a crisis is show up and be there for them. She gave the example of how she and a few others came over and just started cleaning and stuff. So true. You just need someone who is not IN IT to be there with you and for you. ( )
  Jinjer | Jul 19, 2021 |
Like any collection of essays or stories, some pieces resonate more than others. But the ones that connect do so really powerfully. ( )
  RandyRasa | Jun 2, 2021 |
Brian McLaren says, She’s a better writer than I am, and—here’s the selling point—she’s a better writer than I am, too.

Anyway.

It’s a memoir, largely about her family, although the “Overture” is not unlike the testimonies you can find online about people’s faith journey, hers being salvation from addiction. But what I’d really like to say is that one of the themes here is the relevance of the parent-child relationship in the life of faith.

Two points should suffice. First, there is the issue of faith and worry in a parent-child relationship. One example of this is when the parent has to make a decision about risk. In the section called “Mountain Birthday”, her son Sam decides that he wants to go paragliding with an expert for his seventh birthday. Lamott doesn’t like the idea but isn’t sure she isn’t being overprotective; questions such as “whether I should let Sam ride his two-wheeler for several blocks without me when I secretly want to run alongside him like a golden retriever” cause her angst. For awhile she goes back and forth on the issue internally while getting a lot of contradictory advice from friends.

Finally, she remembers a conversation she once had with a minister when she was considering having the child that would later become Sam; the minister had basically said to consult the inner light, advice that led to her having her child. Because this time, as she says later in the book over a similar issue, “my head thought we could do it but my heart was afraid”, she tells Sam he cannot go paragliding for his birthday, news that he greets with minimal disappointment. Instead, he is allowed to go “floating down a sleepy little creek at the foot of the mountain”. This causes her some anxiety—“or bashing his head against a rock in the stream, or....”, but it is minimal and manageable.

A second example of this first point is worry about a possible health situation for her son, a situation over which she had no real control. “‘We need to draw more blood today too’, she said.... I wanted to shout that he didn’t have any more blood, that she’d already drunk it all up because she was a *pig*”—but you can’t say that. “.... my sarcastic Jesuit friend Tom said.... sometimes you get to see just how little you’re actually in charge of. I told him I was never going to call him again.” She says more about prayer and remembering Bible stories and eating comfort food, but the thing about Lamott is that she doesn’t hide that sometimes you don’t have much that is clever to say. You can’t change the situation yourself, and you don’t like it, and that’s how it is. You can’t always spend more money or write a letter to your congressman.

A second point: the nature of formation of and differences in belief between parent and child are also present. “It was like we’d all signed some sort of loyalty oath early on, agreeing not to believe in God in deference to the pain of my father's cold Christian childhood.” Her parents were liberal intellectuals who “drank a lot, liked jazz and gourmet food. They were fifties Cheever people, with their cocktails and affairs.” But she does have various faith episodes (“lily pads”) in her childhood, usually with parent-figures, like the Christian Scientist mother who “gathered her children (and any other loose kids that happened to be there) into an armchair, like Marmie in *Little Women*, and read to them from *Science and Health* or the Bible”; also she is adopted by ardent Jews for awhile into their faith and family—“.... In college, though, most of the smartest, funniest women in the dorm, the ones who always had the best dope, were Jews and referred endlessly to their Jewishness”. Although she drifts away from these childhood religious experiences, she does eventually join a church in California as an adult in recovery, and when she does, she joins a very liberal group, probably the influence of her parents and especially her father, who thought that Reagan was a fascist.... And she brings her son with her to church as she explains in “Why I Make Sam Go To Church”: “The church became my home in the old meaning of *home*—that’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in. They let me in. They even said, ‘You come back now.’” Family is also where she lives out her values that she learns in church: “I tell you, families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness.”

The faith is, after all, and as James said, nothing if it is not made concrete, and this book is nothing if not filled with the concrete details called personal experience.
  goosecap | Apr 22, 2020 |
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From the bestselling author ofOperating InstructionsandBird by Birdcomes a chronicle of faith and spirituality that is at once tough, personal, affectionate, wise and very funny. With an exuberant mix of passion, insight, and humor, Anne Lamott takes us on a journey through her often troubled past to illuminate her devout but quirky walk of faith. In a narrative spiced with stories and scripture, with diatribes, laughter, and tears, Lamott tells how, against all odds, she came to believe in God and then, even more miraculously, in herself. She shows us the myriad ways in which this sustains and guides her, shining the light of faith on the darkest part of ordinary life and exposing surprising pockets of meaning and hope. Whether writing about her family or her dreadlocks, sick children or old friends, the most religious women of her church of the men she's dated, Lamott reveals the hard-won wisdom gathered along her path to connectedness and liberation.

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