Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
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it was amazing
bookshelves: reviewed
Recommended to Nancy by: saw an interview of Lamott with Tavis Smiley
Recommended for: readers who like Anne Lamott and low-key but practical theology
Read 2 times. Last read January 25, 2013 to January 26, 2013.

Help Thanks Wow
By Anne Lamott

I have read a lot of Anne Lamott’s work over the years: her novels, her book about writing, her memoir about life with her son, and her encounters with faith. And because she is an honest writer, I can trace the way she’s changed since her first encounter with God to now, twenty-five years later, and I can say she’s gotten better. More relaxed. Kinder. Wiser. Worth reading on important subjects.

Help Thanks Wow is an unassuming little book, just one hundred pages that break prayer down into three components: petition (help), thanksgiving (thanks) and praise (wow). It’s a book that begs to be given to others, and although Anne is a Christian writer, she writes from a broad perspective, so it is the kind of book you could give to practically anyone without offending him theologically.

In the "help" section, Anne writes about her fear of death as a child, and an upbringing that taught her it was wrong to pray:
I was raised to believe that people who prayed were ignorant. It was voodoo, asking an invisible old man to intervene, God as Santa Claus. God was the reason for most of the large-scale suffering in history, like the Crusades and the Inquisition. Therefore to pray was to throw your lot in with Genghis Khan and Torquemada (which was the name of our huge orange cat) and with snake handlers instead of beautiful John Coltrane, William Blake, Billie Holiday. My parents worshipped at the church of the New York Times and we bowed down before our antique hi-fi cabinet, which held the Ark of the Covenant - Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk albums.

So, to recap, my parents, who were too hip and intellectual to pray, worshipped mostly mentally ill junkies.
But most of the book is much less narrative. Anne simply observes that life is tough, and yet people survive. “This is a hard planet, and we’re a vulnerable species. And all I can do is pray: help.”

The second section, “thanks”, talks about developing the habit of gratitude.
I admit, sometimes this position of gratitude can sometimes be a bit of a stretch. So many bad things happen in each of our lives. Who knew? When my son Sam was seven and discovered that he and I would probably not die at exactly the same moment, he began to weep and said, ‘If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.’
The final section, “wow” is about our response to the universe, both in the small, everyday moments and the titanic ones.
The third great prayer, Wow, is often offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unbidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace. ‘Wow’ means we are not dulled to wonder.
I could go on. These are all quotable passages, and it’s easy to identify with the author. She is us, she has been there, she’s not offering a panacea, she’s talking about real life. I highly recommend this book. And if the subject seems too off-putting at first, read her memoir about having her child as a single mother Operating Instructions, or her novel Rosie, because these, like any good writing, also deal with the big questions of life.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 25, 2013 – Started Reading
January 26, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 30, 2013 – Shelved
January 30, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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