Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essentials of Prayer (New York: Riverhead, 2012), 102pp.
As a sect of Judaism, the earliest Christians inherited the conviction that God is both infinite and intimate, that he speaks and acts. Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, says the psalmist, "called on the Lord, and he answered them" (99:6). The gospels describe how Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven. Paul's letters are full of prayers given and received, although he also confessed that "we do not know how we ought to pray." So, however mysterious and problematic, we pray. Maybe true prayer, as opposed to sanctimony, is like pornography: even though it's hard to define, you know it when you see it.
Anne Lamott has done what feels almost impossible — she's written a short book on prayer that avoids pious platitudes and tired cliches. There are a few passing references to the likes of Thomas Merton and CS Lewis, and an occasional snippet of poetry from e.e. cummings, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Raymond Carver. But most all this book emerges from her own experience as a Christian pilgrim who prays, about her pets, her mother with Alzheimer's, or friends with cancer and ALS. The tone, then, is real honesty about the Really Real. Here's one of her own written prayers (p. 34).
I am just a mess.
It is all hopeless.
What else is new?
I would be sick of me, if I were You, but miraculously You are not.
I know I have no control over other people's
lives, and I hate this. Yet I believe that if I
accept this and surrender, You will meet me
wherever I am.
Wow. Can this be true? If so, how is this
afternoon — say, twoish?
Thank You in advance for your company and
You have never once let me down.
When I finished Lamott's book, I wanted to read it again. I think it would help me to pray more and better.