Anne Lamott, author of Help, Thanks, Wow and Stitches.

Spirituality at ease with life’s mysteries

By  Vanessa Santilli, Catholic Register Special
  • April 11, 2014

Prayer can be carried by the simplest of words. For American author Anne Lamott, those words are help, thanks and wow.

Particularly relevant for Catholics who are paying special attention to their prayer life during Lent, her book Help, Thanks, Wow drives home the message that prayer doesn’t have to be fancy. What it does have to be is honest and sincere.

As she shares the ups and downs of her life — from the pain brought about by her beloved 13-year-old cat’s death to the fact that she used to be an alcoholic — Lamott’s writing is incredibly powerful and somehow relatable, even if you’ve never struggled with an alcohol addiction.

“Awful stuff happens and beautiful stuff happens and it’s all part of the big picture,” she writes in her signature no-nonsense language.

The fact that this 100-page book was a New York Times bestseller comes as no surprise.

Her writing is so honest that it brought me to tears numerous times. Catholic or not, Lamott’s focus on the “hard work of everyday life” strikes a nerve. We all fall and we try our best to get back up again. But no matter whether your circumstances change for the better or worse, there is one part of the puzzle that will remain constant: God will always be there for you.

In Stitches, Lamott’s book on what Catholics will call discernment, this Evangelical describes how she makes sense of the chaos that comes with living.

Her most recent book is chock full of inspirational quotes you’ll want to write down because they ring so true or are written so beautifully. She writes words to live by. I will admit I dog-eared at least 20 pages.

“We live stitch by stitch when we’re lucky,” writes Lamott. “If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching. And maybe the stitching is crude, or it is unravelling, but if it were precise, we’d pretend that life was just fine and running like a Swiss watch.”

Lamott is also refreshingly counter-cultural in her remarks about a society obsessed with success. Growing up, no one mentioned to her that peace was attainable through belief in a higher power. Instead, her non-religious parents pushed on her the all-too-familiar golden calf of getting the best grades and attaining the perfect job.

Her realization that the meaning of life doesn’t lie in material success is one we can all benefit from.

And while Lamott may not be concerned with promoting the New Evangelization, this is precisely what she’s achieved through these two down-to-earth books.

Just as Pope Francis has spoken about the need to make the Church more merciful and more welcoming, Lamott captures the human side of the need for spirituality in coming to terms with the mysteries of life. In her writing, there is no judgment, just compassion for her fellow brothers and sisters doing their best to get by.

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott (Riverhead, hard cover, 112 pages, $19.50) Stitches by Anne Lamott (Riverhead, hard cover, 112 pages, $19.50).

(Santilli is a freelance writer based in Toronto.)

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