“Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith” by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott's "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith"

Anne Lamott's "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith"

It’s an autobiography about a stringy-haired, former bulimic, funny, gentle, honest and awkward writer from California.

I love the writing and the honesty and how it makes me laugh in the metro.

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers. It’s interesting to hear her thoughts on faith, and it makes me think about what it means to be a Christian.

Like how I’ve been one of those Christians who “seemed almost hostile in their belief that they were saved and you weren’t.”* Which is sad, but very, very true, because I remember being uptight like that in college for example. Like when I would argue with this computer science major at my bus stop who said he was an atheist. I felt it was my duty, literally, to argue him into becoming a believer. Like that was what it meant for me to be a Christian – to fight with people until they gave in and saw the error of their ways.

Now sometimes I lean too much the other way, and try not to talk about, you know, Jesus. I tell myself it’s because I’m avoiding being obnoxious, but really it’s mostly because I’m afraid they’ll judge me and also because I forget what it really means to be a Christian, and I lose sight of how first-light-of-dawn amazing God really is.

So my favorite chapters in this book were the ones in the middle that she wrote on grace. Because that’s what being a Christian is all about at it’s core, I think. Grace – “the electricity or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”

Here’s another of her quotes on grace, because those really were some of the best parts of the book:

“…I knew it hadn’t gone well…And my fear of failure has been lifelong and deep. If you are what you do – and I think my parents may have accidentally given me this idea – and you do poorly, what then? It’s over; you’re wiped out. All those prophecies you heard in the dark have come true, and people can see the real you, see what a schmendrick you are, what a fraud…….Out of nowhere I remembered something one of my priest friends had said once, that grace is having a commitment to – or at least acceptance of – being ineffective and foolish. That our bottled charm is the main roadblock to drinking that clear cool glass of love.”   -Anne Lamott

See? Isn’t that lovely? THIS is faith! THIS is a bit of what being a Christian is all about. Somehow I manage to forget this on an almost daily basis. That being a Christian is about realizing what a schmendrick you are, and then having grace quietly, all-acceptingly poured over you because God is just amazing like that.

But it’s two parts – you can’t have one without the other. Grace is meaningless if you think you have it all together. Which is interesting, how Christianity works best when you’re at your weakest, your lowest. Failure turns out to be a gift because it makes room for God in all your stuffy, choking, self-centeredness and pride.

The books’s enough to lift you right out of the yellow-light rackety metro car, and send your thoughts soaring up to where it’s bright and clean with lots of room and patience – where you can spread your shoulders and breathe deeply and smile at people.

Those are my favorite kinds of books – the ones that are true and make you look around with wonder again, the ones that give you patience when you read them. “Patience,” as Anne says, “is when God – or something – makes the now a little roomier.”

I quite often feel that reading the Bible gives me this feeling – the feeling that the now is a little roomier. Which is why, among other reasons, that I still like reading it. Meeting with friends or going for a walk, or visiting an art gallery sometimes also works. Yesterday economist husband and I watched the movie Up, and it made the world seem kinder and sweeter. Interestingly enough, failure (when I really, really mess it up), followed by grace, also brings me up to that big, light, roomy plain. Freedom, I guess, is the word. And this book, in addition to the other things I’ve read by Anne Lamott also helps me to wake up and stretch and feel generous somehow.


*all quotes from Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith”

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