Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott, Pantheon Books; 288pp; $23.
Novelist, memoirist, columnist for the online magazine Salon, and author of an idiosyncratic and popular how-to-write book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott will admit with only the slightest embarrassment that she is a born-again Christian. As she explains in her new book, Traveling Mercies,
My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned me and then held me while I grew. Each prepared for me the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear. When I look back at some of these early resting placesthe boisterous home of Catholics, the soft armchair of the Christian Science mom, adoption by ardent JewsI can see how flimsy and indirect a path they make. Yet each step brought me closer to the verdant pad of faith on which I somehow stay afloat today.
There is much in my own Christian walk that I recognize in Traveling Merciesas when Lamott finds herself on a plane sitting next to a right-wing home-schooler who recognizes her for what she is: a fellow Christian, perhaps, but one who "will be on the same curling team in heaven as Tom Hayden and Vanessa Redgrave."
But the part of Lamott's tale that made me feel I was reading my own autobiography was the lily-pad journey to Christ. I have never identified with those archetypal conversion narratives where, in one sudden moment, a Heart Is Warmed and a Life Changed, the convert receiving Christ with glee and maybe a whispered, "What took you so long?" In my case, it was Jesus who wondered what had taken me so ...1