Mercies is Anne Lamott's first book on faith, published in
1999. She has recently released a sequel, Plan B: Further
Thoughts on Faith. In the preface to Traveling Mercies
which Lamott calls an overture, she explains that her coming
to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers
from what seemed like one safe place to another (3). She describes
these safe places as lily pads on her journey as a seeker.
Lamott fans, she brings the same dry humor and honesty to religion
that she has previously brought to motherhood (Operating Instructions)
and the practice of writing (Bird by Bird). In a series
of essays, Lamott details seemingly ordinary incidents in her
life and the spiritual lessons that she has drawn from them.
"Knocking on Heaven's Door," she boards a plane in
St. Louis for a return flight to California. The man next to
her asks if she is born again. After a pause, she replies in
the affirmative, but reveals her inner conflict to the reader:
My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a
born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of
the old Jonathan Miller routine, where he says, I'm not really
a Jew I'm Jew-ish. They think I am Christian-ish. But I'm not.
I'm just a bad Christian. A bad born-again Christian. And certainly,
like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting
myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and
maybe sort of a vaguely Jesus-y bon vivant. But it's not true.
And I believe that when you get on a plane, if you start lying
you are totally doomed.
their conversation continues, Lamott realizes how extreme her
seat mates' Christian views are and how little they have in common,
but as the flight is delayed and a woman has a heart attack on
the plane she makes a joke. As they both erupt in laughter, he
reaches over to pat her hand and Lamott feels the miracle of
the situation. In simple words fashioned as only she can, her
unique view of the world illuminates its spiritual qualities.