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Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

ISBN: 0385496095

By Anne Lamott

Review by: Natasha Whitton


Traveling Mercies is Anne Lamott's first book on faith, published in 1999. She has recently released a sequel, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.  In the preface to Traveling Mercies which Lamott calls an overture, she explains that her coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another (3). She describes these safe places as lily pads on her journey as a seeker.

For Lamott fans, she brings the same dry humor and honesty to religion that she has previously brought to motherhood (Operating Instructions) and the practice of writing (Bird by Bird). In a series of essays, Lamott details seemingly ordinary incidents in her life and the spiritual lessons that she has drawn from them.

In "Knocking on Heaven's Door," she boards a plane in St. Louis for a return flight to California. The man next to her asks if she is born again. After a pause, she replies in the affirmative, but reveals her inner conflict to the reader:

My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of the old Jonathan Miller routine, where he says, I'm not really a Jew I'm Jew-ish. They think I am Christian-ish. But I'm not. I'm just a bad Christian. A bad born-again Christian. And certainly, like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesus-y bon vivant. But it's not true. And I believe that when you get on a plane, if you start lying you are totally doomed.

As their conversation continues, Lamott realizes how extreme her seat mates' Christian views are and how little they have in common, but as the flight is delayed and a woman has a heart attack on the plane she makes a joke. As they both erupt in laughter, he reaches over to pat her hand and Lamott feels the miracle of the situation. In simple words fashioned as only she can, her unique view of the world illuminates its spiritual qualities.


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