Monday, August 29, 2016

Traveling Mercies - Anne Lamott

Traveling Mercies
Title: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Author: Anne Lamott
Publication Date: 1/19/1999
Pages: 275
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
Date Completed: 7/20/16

Summary: More musings than memoir, Lamott discusses all sorts of things in this book. It's almost an anthology of essays more than a cohesive thesis on one particular aspect of life. Which, given the title, it seems appropriate for Lamott to let us follow the natural pathways of her thoughts.

What I Thought: I discovered this book via the blog of the awesome Sarah Bessey. You may remember her from my reviews of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts. I recommend. 

So, when she collected a list of books for female graduates, I added several from the list to my never ending TBR

I had never heard of Anne Lamott. However, now having read this book, she seems to have been the next natural step in this genre for me. I just didn't know it. 

Reading her felt like a cross between Sarah Bessey and Gloria Steinem. She writes with total irreverence and honesty. As when reading any of these faith-based memoirs, there were things that resonated with me and things with which I disagreed. Lamott is extremely different from the cookie cutter American Christian, and she knows it. She's had a very different faith journey than me, and so reading her reflections on it felt very fresh to me. She hasn't had the years of Christian education or the fundamentalist messaging ground into her. She clearly hasn't followed the "rules" by which we Christians often foolishly judge each other. She writes extensively as life as a never-married single mom, her alcoholism and drug use, and her liberal politics; it's all sprinkled with profanity, too. 

Yet, I really like how transparent and comfortable she is with her flaws. She recognizes the need for growth, but she is not self-effacing about it. Rather, she knows her condition is utterly human. Her faith is real and raw and sometimes reactionary. Her conversations with and about God are often quite outside the proprietary lines with which I was brought up. But they are so honest and I have great respect for that. 

This book is certainly not for everyone, not even all Christians, but I did enjoy it. It was a nice reminder for me that Christianity around the world and even around the country does not always look like the stereo-typical evangelical. Far from it. And, right now, we could all use a reminder of that. 

Quotes I Loved:
  • "Only grieving can heal grief."
  • "Again and again I tell God I need help, and God says, 'Well, isn't that fabulous? Because I need help too. So you go get that old woman over there some water, and I'll figure out what we're going to do about your stuff.'"
  • "You [can] be all the traditional feminine things - a mother, a lover, a listener, a nurturer - and you [can] also be critically astute and radical and have a minority opinion that [is] profoundly moral." This statement feels incredibly relevant and necessary in my life.
  • "I tell you, families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness, and when you can do that, you can learn to pardon anyone. Even yourself, eventually."
  • "In baptism, in lakes and rain and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that's a little sloppy because at the same time it's also holy, and absurd. It's about surrender, giving in to all those things we can't control; it's a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched."
  • "Courage is fear that has said its prayers."
  • "God loves Susan Smith, who drowned her two sons, as much as he loves Desmond Tutu. And he loved her just as much while she was releasing the handbrake of her car that sent her boys into the river as he did when she first nursed them. So of course he loves old ordinary me, even or especially at my most scared and petty and mean and obsessive. Loves me; chooses me."
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Possibly

A Reduced Review: Blunt, abrasive, and refreshingly honest. Lamott's thoughts on life and faith reminded me that core beliefs can unite all types of people. 


  1. I haven't read any of Anne Lamott's books, but Carolyn LOVES her. I love the thing about how you can be feminine and still be other things, too. That took me a long time to realize.