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Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel

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Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith


Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. Lamott explains, "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....Yet each step brought me closer to the ample verdant pad of faith on which I somehow stay afloat today" (3). Yet on page 51 she notes that there was a actually a moment of "conversion." How would you describe the process by which she came to religion? Is there necessarily a spiritual component to emerging from an addiction?

2. Lamott writes of her parents and their friends, "they were fifties Cheever people, with their cocktails and affairs" (10). Is this the reason for Anne's powerful girlhood desire to escape her family and to be "adopted" by the mothers of her friends? Judging from the evidence she offers in the section called "Lily Pads," what was lacking in her own home that she needed?

3. In her earlier book Operating Instructions, Lamott explored the enormous changes that the birth of a child brings to a woman's life. What do you think of her decision, after terminating an earlier pregnancy, to have this baby on her own, and what do you think of the response of the people at St. Andrew's? What does Traveling Mercies tell us about the role of of community in raising children? How does it expand our notions of what a family is?

4. What particular challenges does raising a child bring to Lamott's life as a Christian? How does she handle some of the crises of maternal decision-making, such as the episode of Sam's desire to go paragliding on his seventh birthday?

5. Lamott writes, "Families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness--when you can forgive your family, you can learn to pardon anyone" (223), and "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past" (217). Do you agree with these two statements? Why is forgiveness so important in spiritual life?

6. If Lamott had not been an alcoholic, do you think she would eventually have found faith anyway? Is coming to faith a matter of fate for certain people, or is there a large element of chance involved?

7. At several moments in this story Anne Lamott speaks of the events she is describing as miraculous. What is a miracle? How does she take the miraculous out of the realm of the extraordinary and return it to common life? What is the effect, for you, of her doing so?

8. Of her spirituality before becoming a Christian, Lamott writes, "Mine was a patchwork God, sewn together from bits of rag and ribbon, Eastern and Western, pagan and Hebrew, everything but the kitchen sink and Jesus" (42). Do you find that, even after her conversion and formal baptism, her approach to Christianity is unorthodox? What do you think of her continued unwillingness to exclude the wisdom of other religions?

9. What rituals, celebrations, and memorial occasions are most significant in this story? Why are such occasions necessary in our lives?

10. Consider the structure of this memoir. What decisions has Lamott made in consciously shaping the story of her own life? What does she leave out? Are the choices a writer makes in writing autobiography different from those in writing fiction?

11. Anne Lamott gives the work of other writers an important role in Traveling Mercies. Verses of poetry or excerpts of prose are placed at the beginning of each of the book's seven parts, and the book as a whole opens with a poem by W. S. Merwin. How do these other voices contribute to what Lamott is trying to share with her readers? Which of these additional voices did you find most moving, most resonant?

12. Anne Lamott gives the work of other writers an important role in Traveling Mercies. Lamott is often preoccupied with her aging body and the cultural expectations of beauty. When she is worrying about whether a certain dress makes her hips look too big, her dying friend Pammy remarks, "Annie, you really don't have that kind of time" (239). Why is this such an important insight for Lamott? What sort of resolve is necessary to step away from the desire to be physically beautiful in contemporary American culture?

13. What role does Pammy play in Lamott's life? How does one adjust to losing a friend to cancer? How does Lamott arrive at the crucial insight that we should live joyfully in the face of death?

14. What is amusing about Lamott's efforts to impress upon her son Sam the importance of Ash Wednesday? Do you think that she was right in taking Sam to the ceremony upon the death of their friends' baby? How and when we should try to initiate children into the painful issue of our mortality?

15. What do you find most appealing about Anne Lamott's voice as a writer? Which aspects of her character do you most and least identify with?

16. What is the relationship between humor and faith in Anne Lamott's life? Is humor a necessary component of faith?

17. Why is community so important in Anne Lamott's life as a Christian? Is there a qualitative difference in a spirituality that is primarily private, and one that is part of an ongoing commitment to a group of fellow believers?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

beautifulbookworm, January 28, 2010 (view all comments by beautifulbookworm)
This book changed my life. Seriously. Lamott puts down on paper things I felt and couldn't find the words to. Words can't say how much I love her confessional voice and humor, her reverence and irreverence, her ability to magnify imperfections simultaneously showing their frailty and beauty... She is such an awesome chick too, so funny and honest. I met her and talked with her a few times throughout the years. The last time, I chatted with her at a reading she offered me her popcorn! At first, I thought of Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love, because I loved that book too and read that more recently. Gilbert has a confessional voice too. However, we're talking a decade here, and Anne Lamott, for me at least is the queen.
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Blindgirl, December 5, 2009 (view all comments by Blindgirl)
Please have Anne record this in her own voice, I have gotten so much out of her other audio books and I especially love the ones where she reads. Thank you!
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meganpardue, June 5, 2008 (view all comments by meganpardue)
Lamott's perspective is unique and independent. She is perceptive and thoughtful about the world around her, which she describes and articulates through stories from her own life and experiences. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy reading thoughts on faith that may enlighten or challenge your own.
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Product Details

Lamott, Anne
Anchor Books
Lamott, Anne
New York
Mothers and sons
Christian biography
Spirituality - Women's
Novelists, American
Novelists, American -- 20th century.
General Religion
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.15x5.22x.63 in. .48 lbs.

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Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith Used Trade Paper
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Product details 288 pages Anchor Books - English 9780385496094 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Readers of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Lamott's previous book on spirituality, will find here the same thoughtfulness and humor we've come to love. Whether writing about battles with her son, her mother's death, the church she's found to be home, or her loathing of George W. Bush, Lamott's irreverence and wit doesn't disappoint.

"Review" by , "Squeezing every last drop of meaning out of even the smallest things, Lamott writes agilely about such watershed events as the deaths of her father and closest woman friend, and the birth of her son and life as a single mother, all the while tracing her slow crawl back to faith with wonder, gratitude, and an irrepressible love of a good story."
"Review" by , "Hallelujah...a refreshing sense of humanity that has you guffawing on one page and bawling on the next."
"Review" by , "...[C]ontributes to a growing literature of self-disclosure by women that unites the worlds of feminism and addiction..."
"Review" by , "[She is] sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise, and alternately cranky and kind."
"Review" by , "Anne Lamott is a cause for celebration. [Her] real genius lies in capturing the ineffable, describing not perfect moments, but imperfect ones...perfectly. She is nothing short of miraculous."
"Review" by , "Lamott writes about subjects that begin with capital letters (alcoholism, motherhood, Jesus). But armed with self-effacing humor and ruthless honesty?call it a lower-case approach to life's Big Questions?she converts potential op-ed boilerplate into enchantment."
"Review" by , "Smart, funny, and comforting...Lamott has a conversational style that perfectly conveys her friendly, self-deprecating humor."
"Review" by , "Lamott's greatest gift is making [readers] feel their own imperfect lives are worth salvaging, that it's okay to be bitchy, confused and selfish."
"Review" by , "Like many in her boomer generation, Lamott doesn't hold much truck with churches but has found a meaningful congregation all the same....Nothing here is self-indulgent. An anguishing account that also heals."
"Review" by , "Exuberant and captivating....Shifts from laugh-out-loud wisecracks to heart-wrenching poignancy. At one point she seems a reincarnation of Erma Bombeck; at other, she could be Annie Dillard or Kathleen Norris."
"Review" by , "Even at her most serious, she never takes herself or her spirituality too seriously. Lamott is a narrator who has relished and soaked up the details of her existence, equally of mirth and devastation, spirit and grief, and spilled them onto her pages."
"Review" by , "You'll love Traveling Mercies for Lamott's unblinking confrontation with God's love, and you'll buy copies for all your friends struggling with faith."
"Review" by , "Compares with the witty and moving Christian apologetics of C. S. Lewis.... Lamott is a fine writer who combines theology with humor, compassion, and practicality."
"Review" by , "Applies passion, wisdom, and intensity to a scorchingly personal look at the road from spiritual apathy to ardent belief.... Traveling Mercies, like Ms. Lamott herself, is a consistent delight."
"Review" by , "Lamott has developed an entirely new genre of religious writing. Gritty, stark, and humorous, she catches the reader by surprise when she points her pen heavenward.... Anne Lamott [is] the patron saint of struggling sinners, a woman who loves God enough to be divinely human."
"Synopsis" by , A chronicle of faith and spirituality that is at once tough, personal, affectionate, wise, and very funny. Anne Lamott claims the best two prayers she knows are "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Despite — or because of — her irreverence and wit, faith is a natural subject for Lamott. With an exuberant mix of passion, insight, and humor, in Traveling Mercies she takes us on a journey through her often troubled past to illuminate her devout but quirky walk of faith. In a narrative spiced with stories and scripture, with diatribes, laughter, and tears, Lamott tells how, against all odds, she came to believe in God and then, even more miraculously, in herself.

Whether writing about her family or her dreadlocks, sick children or old friends, the most religious women of her church or the men she's dated, she shows us the myriad ways her faith sustains and guides her, shining light on the darkest part of ordinary life and exposing surprising pockets of meaning and hope.

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