Lamott: Prayer

“So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light—I suppose they blink their mushroomy eyes, like the rest of us.”

—Anne Lamott in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (Hodder & Stoughton, 2001).

help thanks wow.JPG

When spiritual friends are having difficulty praying, we talk about our present prayer life and what kind of prayer discipline has helped in the past. We discuss the multitude of ways to pray: walking and praying, praying in silence, using prayer books, Ignatian prayers, Centering Prayer, prayer with beads, praying in color, praying the hours.

Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, is a realistic, humorous, short down-to-earth discourse on praying with three subject lines: giving thanks, asking for help, and praising. The book is filled to the brim with simple “one liners” to remember and guide us through the day. One of my favorites is, “If one person is praying for you, buckle up. Things can happen.” Another is, “The difference between you and God is that God never thinks he is you.” She reminds us that gratitude is not lifting our arms and waving our hands on television but rather picking up trash, doing what is required, reaching out to others in need. When we breathe in gratitude we breathe it out.

Lamott’s section on “Wow” likens that kind of prayer to a child seeing the ocean for the first time. I still remember standing just inside the National Cathedral as a group of fifth graders walked in. I will not forget one small boy who looked up at the high, vaulted gray stone ceilings and exclaimed: “WOW!” These are upper-case wows. There are also lower-case wows, such as getting into bed between clean sheets. Lamott suggests that poetry is “the official palace language of Wow.” She also reminds us of C. S. Lewis’ view of prayer, that we pray not to change God, but to change ourselves.

My experience is that Lamott always stimulates us into new practices of faith or reminds us about those we have forgotten that can make all the difference.