anne lamott   Anne Lamott on Traveling Mercies  
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  Everywhere I traveled in the last five years or so to talk about writing, I found myself approached by people in the audience who would want to talk to me about God instead. Rather than wanting to hear about plot or character development, they wanted to confide that they had a relationship with God, too, and they wanted to hear stories from my church. Thirteen years ago I first lurched--very hung over--into a little church in one of the poorest communities in California. Without this church I do not think I would have survived the last few years of my drinking. But even so, I had written about the people there only in passing. I did, however, speak about the church whenever I could, sheepishly shoehorning in a story or two. But it wasn't until my fifth book (Operating Instructions) that I came out of the closet as a real believer. In talking to many people about this over the years, I found that our one common denominator was that we were all stunned to discover that faith and devotion could shimmer big enough to include all of us--even people like me.

I started to realize that there was a great hunger and thirst for regular, cynical, rag-bag people to talk about God and goodness and virtue in a tone that didn't frighten and upset you, or make you feel that you were doing even more poorly than you'd thought.

Once I turned my mind to this, all of these stories, moments, and connections started appearing to me. When I told them to people--to readers or to friends--they were almost relieved. It was so great to start comparing notes about this faith of ours, to be funny and sarcastic and attitudinally challenged about it, and still be people who could be devoted to God. We no longer had to feel that we were crazy or self-righteous or losers, or pathetic for having that faith. We were just maybe a little different.

Soon all kinds of people starting giving me soul food in the form of stories, insights, feedback, great lines, jokes, and bumper stickers, and I started to put that soul food back into circulation. And because a lot of this material we were sharing comes from our most human and private and real and vulnerable places, it turns out to be both unbelievably funny and very, very touching.

So I don't think of Traveling Mercies as a book about religion at all, but rather as a handbook, or maybe a sort of owner's manual, for people who are trying to live faithfully: which is to say, learning to cooperate with grace--even (or especially) when real life rears its very confusing head. It's a book about some of us who--surprising even ourselves--came to believe in a loving God who is with us always--even on bad thigh days, even in the midst of homework wars with our children--a God who does not roll His or Her eyes at us even when we are trying to buy cars or date, who does not forsake us even when we whine or are bad to each other. It is about my experiences with a God who loves me, chooses me, and forgives me, every step of the amazing way.

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Copyright © 1998 Anne Lamott.

Photo of Anne Lamott copyright © Mallory Geitheim.