Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

By Anne Lamott

(Riverhead, $17.95, 112 pages)

Who is this author?

Anne Lamott is known for her bestselling nonfiction about motherhood and spirituality and for her fiction. She lives in Northern California, is a recovering alcoholic and raised her son (now grown and a father himself) as a single mother struggling to get it right. Her nonfiction includes the New York Times bestsellers “Some Assembly Required,” “Grace (Eventually),” “Plan B,” “Traveling Mercies” and “Operating Instructions,” and her fiction includes “Imperfect Birds,” “Rosie” and “Crooked Little Heart.” Writers trying to free a novel trapped in their imagination and those suffering any kind of block  were charmed and uplifted by her 1995 book of advice and encouragement, “Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.”

What is this book about?

There are three basic and essential prayers, says Lamott, that all of us express, even the non-observant or atheistic, when we find ourselves in need or overflowing with emotion. They boil down to “help,” “thanks” and “wow,” and they emerge, often spontaneously, when we are overwhelmed or are filled with gratitude or with wonder.

These are not the formal prayers heard in churches or synagogues, which she calls “beautifully pre-assembled prayers. . .  the good china of prayers.” They spring from the heart and feel like conversations. Lamott explains how such prayers have helped her and others and why she believes they will help you, too.

Why you’ll like it:

Lamott is wise, and she is funny. She embraces Christianity without the showy preachiness of some pastors, particularly the TV variety, or the sappiness of some inspirational writers. Here is some of what she told NPR  about prayer:

“…I’ve heard people say that God is the gift of desperation, and there’s a lot to be said for having really reached a bottom where you’ve run out of any more good ideas, or plans for everybody else’s behavior; or how to save and fix and rescue; or just get out of a huge mess, possibly of your own creation.

“And when you’re done, you may take a long, quavering breath and say, ‘Help.’ People say ‘help’ without actually believing anything hears that. But it is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever….

“I think, if there’s a God — and I believe there is — that God is there to help. That’s what God’s job is.”

“Thanks is the prayer of relief that help was on the way. … The full prayer, and its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.

Wow is the praise prayer. The prayer where we’re finally speechless — which in my case is saying something. … When I don’t know what else to do I go outside, and I see the sky and the trees and a bird flies by, and my mouth drops open again with wonder at the just sheer beauty of creation. … Wow is the prayer of wonder.”

What others are saying:

“Filled with Lamott’s unique brand of humor, wisdom and profound spiritual insight… She has a gift for putting into words what it means to accept and ultimately embrace the beauty, mystery, and pain that is life,” says the San Antonio Express-News.

‘An imaginative do-it-yourself approach to spirituality…With a stand-up comic’s snap and pop, candid and righteous Lamott tells hilarious and wrenching tales about various predicaments that have sparked her prayers and inspired her to encourage others to pray anytime, anywhere, and any way,” says Booklist.

Says Publishers Weekly: “Her newest [is] small and very focused on God, who is clearly brought forward from his (or her) usual background presence in Lamott’s writings. Equal parts 12 Step meeting in the church basement and walks on the beach, it’s a prayer manual for people who wouldn’t be caught dead reading prayer manuals. As such it may surprise, a bit, some of Lamott’s most secular readers. But it takes a very familiar voice in a newish direction, and may attract younger readers whose religious preference is more offbeat than orthodox.”

Kirkus Reviews says: “ A refreshingly simple approach to spiritual practice in a pint-sized reflection on prayer. …Lamott … has taken an enormously complex and often debated topic and boiled it down to three basic elements that transcend doctrine or creed. Though in her previous books the author has been forthright about her Christianity, here she begins with a prelude that assures readers she’s not even remotely interested in trying to tell them who or what God is; she’s simply asking them to consider that there’s a Divine Being willing to run the show. How is one to get that process going? Prayer. More specifically, Lamott touts the spiritual power in powerlessness, gratitude and wonder. The three sections of the book aren’t solely about each one-word prayer; they’re more a running conversation about their collective influence in her life. …In what at first may seem like a jumbled mashup of stories and reflections, Lamott manages to deftly convey the idea that in trying to control things, we’ve largely lost our ability to see the good and the miraculous in everyday life. And those commodities go a long way, she writes, in terms of making a Divine connection that brings a measure of hope and peace. Though fans may be dismayed at the brevity of the book, there’s more here than meets the eye.”

When is it available?

You can find it at the Camp Field, Mark Twain or Park branches of the Hartford Public Library.

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