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Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 19. Januar 1999

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For most writers, the greatest challenge of spiritual writing is to keep it grounded in concrete language. The temptation is to wander off into the clouds of ethereal epiphanies, only to lose readers with woo-woo thinking and sacred-laced clichés. Thankfully, Anne Lamott (Operating Instructions, Crooked Little Heart) knows better. In this collection of essays, Lamott offers her trademark wit and irreverence in describing her reluctant journey into faith. Every epiphany is framed in plainspoken (and, yes, occasionally crassly spoken) real-life, honest-to-God experiences. For example, after having an abortion, Lamott felt the presence of Christ sitting in her bedroom:

This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk and then it stays forever.
Whether she's writing about airplane turbulence, bulimia, her "feta cheese thighs," or consulting God over how to parent her son, Lamott keeps her spirituality firmly planted in solid scenes and believable metaphors. As a result, this is a richly satisfying armchair-travel experience, highlighting the tender mercies of Lamott's life that nudged her into Christian faith. --Gail Hudson


"Anne Lamott is a cause for celebration. [Her] real genius lies in capturing the ineffable, describing not perfect moments, but imperfect ones. . . perfectly. She is nothing short of miraculous." --The New Yorker

"[She is] sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise, and alternately cranky and kind."  --Seattle Times

"Lamott writes about subjects that begin with capital letters (Alcoholism, Motherhood, Jesus). But armed with self-effacing humor and ruthless honesty--call it a lower-case approach to life's Big Questions--she converts potential op-ed biolerplate into enlightenment." --Newsweek

"Smart, funny, comforting. . . Lamott has a conversational style that perfectly conveys her friendly, self-deprecating humor."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Eloquent, detailed, emotionally honest. . . Lamott deserves praise for telling it like it is."  --People

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I read this book in about one day, couldn't put it down--am not now nor have ever been either Alcoholic or Christian. In fact, I seldom read books on religion, faith, or spirituality and chose this particular text because I am an Annie Lamott fan, not a believer (in the more conventional sense). I do, very sincerely, respect other people's beliefs, however orthodox or UN-orthodox, and I greatly enjoyed reading the way someone so totally unlikely to write about a spiritual journey nonetheless found herself on one when she became sober.
I was very moved, and actually envious of the comfort Lamott's faith has given her life. Not only has her spiritual awakening played a role in controlling her alcoholism, but it has lead her to a Christianity more resonant of the teachings of Christ than is true of many more "traditional" spiritual authors.
However, this book may in many ways appeal more to those who are TOLERANT than those who might find the word "faithful" as the first on their tongue to describe themselves. Even the deeply skeptical, or the totally without faith will enjoy this book if they are "tolerant", because it is about the faith of someone so unlike those one generally finds writing about spirituality. This fact also makes the book a great deal more interesting than one might expect of a text about a spiritual journey (for those who aren't wild about that sort of literature in general), because you get to see how Lamott sustains her faith despite a mind with little of the "obedient" nature one generally associates with religious fervor.
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I resisted reading this book based on the many 1-star reviews it received on this site. I just knew that I would agree with all those readers who, clutching their stomachs, had pleaded with Anne to "ponder pride as one of the seven deadly sins." For some reason, however, I did read the book and I am here to tell you that, yes, it was relentlessly self-absorbed, but it is still a book that I feel has value. Part of the reason I may have enjoyed it is that I am a lot like Anne, except that I didn't have intellectual parents or a child out of wedlock, or become a Christian or an alcoholic (although my problem with bulimia -- on the vanguard before there was even a name for it -- was worse than hers). I thoroughly understand her need to refer everything back to herself, and the capacity to be prodigiously witty as long as one is looking in the mirror. For those people who don't have such narcissism, I am sure it is trying to endure a 15-page rant about her hair, which you just know she loves, and is only complaining about in order to flaunt. I understand the fragile gratitude which can turn all your particular friends and their children into the most amazing and singular people on earth, and your epiphanies and triumphs into the most breathlessly momentous. Sure, she was the architect of most of her own misery, but so was I, and that doesn't make it any easier to take, it just makes it more pathetic and picayune. The book must be approached as you would a diary, not a mature work of spiritual accomplishment. While several chapters were so overworked that they reminded me of Hawaiians making poi, others were gripping and direct. Ms. Lamott has a rapier-sharp wit, which is trained primarily on herself, and though her spiritual struggles may seem jejune to some, they are reported candidly. If you can cut her some slack, there is much to relish about being a voyeur to her inner workings.
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Life shouldn't be this difficult! Lamott, through witty, humorous, clear, concise writing and compelling stories shows us how, in many ways, we are our own worst enemies. But she also shows us ways out of the problems we create and gives us a glimpse of how our attitudes and perseverance can overcome even the problems of alcoholism, drugs, being a single Mom, and being poor.
On the surface, this is a very self-centered book, focused almost entirely on the feelings, friends, enemies, and weaknesses of the author. Yet, Lamott manages to use her story to demonstrate to us that through love and faith, one can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. If one reads these stories while keeping compassion in his or her heart for another suffering human being, then a spiritual journey unfolds with many wonderful lessons along the way. But it takes work to get by the feeling that we're learning far more about the author than we needed to.
Yet Traveling Mercies becomes a wonderful sermon since it afflicts the comfortable and gives some hope and comfort to the afflicted. And perhaps the discomfort one feels when reading it is the same as that of being around sick family members or friends. And how can one tell the story of love and compassion for others bringing grace into one's life without sounding self-centered and a bit self-righteous? In the end, Lamott does precisely that. The reader grows respect and admiration for this frail human being as she tells of her own spiritual journey from someone who could not stand being "in the same room with a Christian," to someone who can lean on God and accept Jesus. And she does so without trashing anyone else's faith system.
"I make him [her son, go to church] because I can.
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