Sunday, December 23, 2012

Day 23: Help Thanks Wow. Really. We Mean It

Welcome to Day 23 in our 24 Days of Books. We're down to the second to last day! Although I do not consider myself a spiritual person and gave up the church of my parents forty years ago, there is a small handful of “religious” writers that I consistently read. At the top of this list is Anne Lamott. She is a Christian writer whose thousands of avid fans include many readers who are not.

Because she is such a good writer, I suspect I would read Ms. Lamott’s books were she to write about ice fishing or Tuvan throat singing or the import/export business in Chad. I would read her sports columns if she wrote them. I would read her first drafts, which she says are horrible. I would not dare to read her diary, but I most certainly would read her grocery list. Her writing has helped me through early parenthood and tough times. She has helped me with my own writing. She has made me snort-laugh out loud more than most humorists who are trying way harder than she is to elicit laughter. And whether I am reading her fiction or her essays, I always feel that I am in good hands.

Ms. Lamott’s new book is a slim but timely volume titled Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers ($17.95, Riverhead Books). Her thesis is that all “prayer” – and she defines this term very, very loosely – boils down to one of the three simple words in the title.

The definition of prayer that Ms. Lamott uses transcends religious differences or ideology. Prayer is “certainly not what TV Christians mean. It’s not for display purposes….Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding.”  And, she adds, “Let’s not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to….to the animating energy we are sometimes bold enough to believe in; to something unimaginably big, and not us.” Although I might personally quibble with the “not us” part of her definition, I might just change it slightly for myself to say “not me."

So, the three prayers are rather self-explanatory, I think. Help me. Thank you. Wow, that is awesome.

These three thoughts (call them prayers if you want) will carry us a long way.  It’s the season for all of them.  Help is something we all need when we are struggling alone or together with doubt, hardship, loneliness, suffering, or tragedy – and there is too much of that going around lately. Thanks is especially felt at this time of year but applies to every single day of our lives that we have food and shelter. And Wow:  I am reminded of Steve Jobs’ last words: Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.

It’s telling that we have a little trouble figuring out where to shelve this book in the store. It doesn’t fit neatly into Christianity or Judaism or Eastern Religions, which are the three distinct sections for religion that a small store such as ours has. Neither does it strictly adhere to the Psychology shelf, or Essays, or Personal Memoir. Right now we are solving the problem by stacking it up on the front table, where we put our favorite new nonfiction. And as fast as we stack it, we sell it. Shall we hold one for you?

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