Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 20, 1999
Author traces course of her own conversion
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith., by Anne Lamott. 275 pages, New York: Pantheon Books, 1999.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
I had never heard of Anne Lamott until I was surfing the Internet and ran into her name a number of times associated with one of my favourite authors, Kathleen Norris.
For Lamott, who started her writing career as a novelist and poet, her latest book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, is one of the top-selling spiritual books at the Internet bookstore Amazon.com.
The book is a combination spiritual autobiography and a collection of reflections on life. The first 55 pages describe her upbringing by liberal parents in the sixties and early seventies. Her parents, who did not practise any form of religion at home, were active in social justice issues in the 1960s. Her early life was a mix of protest marches, tennis, drugs and music.
It was with her friends that Lamott first encounters God and organized religion. Over the course of her growing up, she describes encounters with religion, believers and God but does not know how to behave when these encounters occur or where they were leading her.
Over the course of time, however, through a series of adventures, or misadventures, depending upon your point of view, Lamott discovers God and comes to reluctantly accept God's call.
This acceptance of God leads her to a local Presbyterian church in San Francisco where she lives with her son, Sam. The remainder of the book is stories and reflections of the people in the church, her son, her neighbours and especially herself.
They include reflections on God and airplanes, a certain fear of moles (her father died of skin cancer), bulimia, her "feta" thighs among others. I found the essays, except in a couple of cases, were grounded in real events that the reader is able to relate to in their own experiences.
No matter the topic, all of the essays include a spiritual dimension. Lamott's relationship with God is like that of a best friend. Her prayer life and her son are the two most important things to her. This is evident throughout the writing. Loving relationships are signs to her of relationship with God.
I really liked the book and found the stories real and encouraging. I could relate to some of the situations, not all. Her experimentation with drugs as a teenager and young adult, her problems with alcohol, and an abortion she had when a relationship went bad are outside my experiences.
But many of the other problems, like eating and weight problems, the love she has for her son, and the her faith in God were easy to relate to.
I enjoyed Lamott's writing style. It is as if she is in the room having a conversation with you. This conversation would include explicit language, language that could be uncomfortable or offensive to some.
In a collection of essays, Lamott offers wit and irreverence in describing her reluctant journey into faith. Every small epiphany is framed in real-life, honest-to-God experiences. Nothing dramatic happens in this book, just the steady accruals of moments of grace that the reader will find quirky, yet comfortably familiar.
(Dean Sarnecki teaches religious studies at Archbishop Jordan Catholic High School in Sherwood Park.)