Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott
A reflection by Laurie Fowler
I have read many of Anne Lamott’s previous books: Traveling Mercies, Plan B, Help, Thanks, Wow!, so when I saw a new book in an airport bookstore, I bought it. A real book, that although it is small adds weight to my carry on. Knowing how accessible Anne’s texts usually are, I opened it up before we even took off and was immediately engrossed. Her prose style is simple, elegant, and yet, powerful. I began to read and then realized I needed to open my laptop to record the lines from the book that I wanted to remember.
In the opening chapter, she references Micah 6:8
And what does the Lord require of you?
and to love mercy
and to love mercy
This is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible. I was interested to see what her take on it would be. On page 5, she says What Micah is talking about is grad school curriculum, while, spiritually speaking, I remain in junior high school, superior and cringing at the same time. WOW! She is so right; those simple words are lots harder to do than to memorize. I, too, feel like a young, gawky, not quite adult Christian when I look at my life and measure it by those three requirements. I love that she compares being a better person and Christian to being in Grad School. I totally relate to that.
After the exploration of this verse, she finally gets to the idea of mercy. She says our hearts, minds, and spirits leap for joy when we just hear the word because the soul rejoices in what it already knows. (page 7) I think this is true because on my journey so far in life I have met people and instantly felt like I have known them forever. My soul recognizes other similar souls and rejoices. Yet why is it we are more willing to extend mercy and forgiveness to others, but not ourselves. She state the obvious for those who are thick-headed—mercy is radical kindness. (page 10). God didn’t create us to be perfect, but because he thought we would like it. Wait, what? God is that intimate with us to do things for us simply for pure enjoyment. (page 11). But, she later observes, God thought we would like puberty, warfare, and snakes? I could go on and on—senescence, global warming, Parkinson’s, spiders? (page 11). I am guessing God did not place these things in our world to annoy us, but he knew that he would be there to help us through the tough times. Because our God is so merciful to us, we, therefore, must learn to be merciful to others and ourselves.
Lately I have seen many memes on Facebook about being kind rather than being right. Anne speaks to this, too. Kindness toward others and radical kindness to ourselves . . . Do you want this or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that? I am amazed at how well she takes my thoughts and puts them right out there on paper. I feel this so many times—in my personal life, I think it is my job to save my friends and family from being wrong; in my travel life, I think it is my job to teach others fairness by jumping on people who break in line during boarding the plane; in my inward life, I think it is my job to take on responsibility for the problems of others. What if by being kind to others and radically kind to myself, I am freed from these impediments to my own well-being? Because, according to Micah, we only have to love mercy to begin again.
In the next chapter, Ms. Lamott focuses on her childhood and the issues that arose for her because of her parents and her upbringing. While I can read this and empathize, I cannot truly sympathize because I was raised by loving parents who did their best even when they weren’t sure what they were doing was right. I think I parted ways with mercy much later than childhood—possibly not until adulthood. Her reflection on growing older resonated with me. Many of us try to live some variation of the Serenity Prayer, . . . but our minds and bodies do not always cooperate.(page 18) She also realizes that it is much harder to receive intimate care than to give it, but in being merciful to ourselves, we learn to accept with grace.
In chapter 3, she talks about the Chinese approach to broken things. When something is broken in Chinese culture, it is repaired with gold leaf so that the broken places become more prominent. They are visible, even prominent, because that makes the object even more valuable. Americans would throw something broken away rather than even think about repairing it, and certainly not celebrate the flaws. I think the Chinese are onto something.
The metaphor of giving water to someone who thirsts or receiving water from another is one used to help the reader understand mercy. We must be ready to provide water to all who need it, even those who annoy us, or, GASP! those who we don’t think deserve it. We also have to be willing and able to receive water when it is offered to us without worrying about what people will think of us. That is something I really need to think about. I am fine with offering mercy to others, but not so good with receiving mercy.
I absolutely adore this next line. The shortest and most amazing line in the Bible: Jesus wept. But in some translations it says Jesus is pissed. P. 92 It is not unthinkable then that Jesus who was fully human could also get pissed. If he can do that, then I can probably learn to be more merciful, huh?
Another line that got my attention was, I’ve lived through times when a connected group of humans in grief and shock stayed together as things unscrolled, when a person was dying too young, or after. I think about Tim Cooper, Michael the organist, Ed Pradat, my Dad, my Uncle Bill, and so many others who were not finished living, but they died anyway. It left those of still here on earth with lots of questions and many insults that we hurled at God. Mercy seems far away in times of grief until that friend or family member appears and does a simple kindness to remind you that people are good, God is good, and you are good. I find another line exceptional in its clarity—maybe mercy and grace go together like cream and sugar. Hmm, really? Those two things can make life less bitter as cream and sugar can do for coffee? I will have to give that more thought.
I learned a lot about mercy by reading this book. I saw how Anne Lamott views it and I began to explore how I see mercy. I think the most important thing I may have learned is to be more merciful means not to try harder but to learn to resist less. That is some powerful advice. As I look forward on my journey toward Christian Grad School as proclaimed by Micah, I am going to try to resist less and learn how to receive mercy. Amen.