Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

by Anne Lamott
Riverhead Books     2017
197 pages     Spiritual

"Well, Hallelujah Anyway." Isn't this what we say when life is getting us down—when we don't know where, when, or how to move ahead? Isn't this what mercy is all about? Anne Lamott says: "Yes, because in the words of Candi Stanton's great gospel song, 'hallelujah anyway.' Hallelujah that in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature laughing, mercy."

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite spiritual authors. My love affair with her began with her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. She tells it like it is—no holds barred, and nothing glossed over. In Hallelujah Anyway, Lamott is telling us that sometimes life isn't particularly pleasant; that shit happens; and then every once in a while, we see glimmers of grace and mercy. Mercy most of all. Lamott tells us that "Mercy is radical kindness. . . Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable."

One of her big lessons is that sometimes when we can't take it anymore, a mentor appears to guide us through the difficult moments. Lamott tells the story of how she found sobriety, and the woman who offered her mercy when she most needed it. This is just one of the many stories she tells about herself and her inner life. She offers her readers accessible wisdom and the very most practical of theologies. She reminds us of "how big and deep life is meant to be." 

Lamott's faith is honest faith; full of questions, days that have no meaning, glimpses of light, dear friends that anchor us, and mercy that comes from the most unusual people, at the most extraordinary times. Hallelujah Anyway reminds us to celebrate life, no matter what.

Several thoughts about the book and our reading of it. I read the book with my husband for our morning reading times. Of course, he had no past experience with Lamott, and he found the premise of the book rather negative. However, our readings provoked a lot of discussion about the nature of failure, about how he was always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt, and how he was so very good at mentoring people. We also talked about how hard he was on himself—that he needed to offer himself some mercy.

While we were reading Lamott's book, I was reading a novel for a church book group called Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown, which I will blog about next. In this book, four women meet in a spiritual growth group. One of their commonalities is that they offer themselves no mercy. They are not able to say, Hallelujah anyway! These fictional women offered me a lens through which I could see the points that Lamott was making.

Finally, as I was writing this blog posting in the early evening, the doorbell rang. At the door was a former handyman—alcoholic and recovering drug addict. He was looking particularly haggard and asked if he could come in. (My kids don't like it when he comes around because he can be very disruptive when he has been drinking.) So, we sat in the gathering dusk and he told me his worries and concerns.  I listened and offered him the mercy he needed. Would I have done this if I hadn't read the book? Probably. However, because I read Hallelujah Anyway, I understood the concept of mercy much better—particularly why he had come to me seeking mercy and the generosity with which I could offer him some peace. Anne Lamott says, “I know why I’m here, I know what I have to offer. I can get you a glass of water, that’s really all I have to offer.”

 Here is a video podcast of an interview Anne Lamott made following the publication of Hallelujah Anyway.   

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