My husband and I just started a book club with a few people in our area, and the inaugural book was Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. I’d read some of her stuff on writing (and Bird by Bird is particularly excellent, especially if you tend to beat yourself up about your writing or get discouraged easily), but not her stuff on faith. So I was delighted and pleased that Traveling Mercies was just as rejuvenating as Bird by Bird.
There’s no “plot” to this kind of memoir, but rather a series of observations about Ms. Lamott’s journey through faith. And what a journey it’s been. From her harrowing past as an addict to family sorrow to the unexpected blessings of becoming a single mother, Lamott has seen it all. And her unorthodox, unconventional faith has carried her through it. She cuts through a lot of the platitudes those of us in institutional faiths tend to mouth, instead offering sharp insights as to human nature and the mysterious, frustrating workings of faith.
For me, the most beautiful passage came when she described her church. This man, dying of AIDS, is an active participant in her church, except one day he doesn’t have the strength to stand up for the singing. An older black lady in the choir, suspicious of his presence (he IS a gay man dying of AIDS, after all), comes over to him and helps him sing. And they start crying together, overcome by the mutual love that brought them together. I still get chills when I think of that moment–that, to me, is real, honest, Christ-like love, brought to human flesh.
If you are a person of faith, I cannot recommend this book enough. Yes, there are occasional bad words. You won’t be sorry. You’ll find yourself challenged and refreshed. Ms. Lamott’s style is easy and approachable, while still eloquent and incisive.