For many years I have been a huge fan of Anne Lamott's writing, especially her nonfiction books that serve as part memoir, part spiritual guidepost. Her book about writing, "Bird by Bird," is a family favorite, and there have been few funnier memoirs of early parenthood than "Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year," in which Lamott, at the time a 35-year-old recovering drug addict and alcoholic, became a single mother.
And for those of us who muddle our way along life's spiritual path, Lamott's "Traveling Mercies," "Plan B" and "Grace, Eventually," have provided inspiration and affirmation that no matter how much we fear we're not doing it "right," all will be well.
Lamott calls the three prayers those of surrender, gratitude and praise, and delivers them in her inimitable style, always surrounded by her own observations and the experiences of friends and family.
"Help," she says, is the hardest prayer, because it is the most humbling. "Thanks" is short for "thank you thank you thank you thank you," whether it be for some small blessing or for something huge, like getting a better than expected diagnosis. And "wow" is the prayer of wonder, whether directed at the beauty of creation or at something amazing just witnessed.
Lamott defines prayer as communication with a higher power, and has some fun with defining that higher power —some friends call it "Howard," as a mishearing of the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name..." or "The Grandmothers" or, as in the parody of "Desiderata," "hairy thunderer or cosmic muffin."
And she gives permission for that communication to be as direct or angry as necessary: " 'I hate you, God.' That is a prayer, too, because it is real, it is truth, and maybe it is the first sincere thought you've had in months."
"Help, Thanks, Wow" is filled with vintage Lamott as she does her best to get out of her own way on her own spiritual journey, which is that of a born-again Christian who defines herself as a progressive.
"Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides," she writes. "It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back."
Lamott serves as her own narrator in "Help, Thanks, Wow," and I have to say that at first I found this disconcerting. It wasn't until my second listening of the book that I truly appreciated the narration, with all of Lamott's quirky, ironic tone.