Books: Anne Lamott’s “Hallelujah Anyway, Rediscovering Mercy”, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine

Anne Lamott is the New York Times bestselling author of a number of books like Help, Thanks, Wow; Small Victories; Stitches; and Some Assembly Required. You may have seen her with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday or relaxing with her friends and dogs in Northern California. In addition to being a writer, she is a political activist, single mom, and self-described “jealous and judgemental human being”.

In her newest offering, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, she shares a collection of nine chapters (essays, some would say) on experiences that run the gamut from motherhood to alcoholism, illustrating different angles and perspectives on mercy. “Mercy is radical kindness,” she writes. “Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable.”

I’m equal parts beguiled and bemused by her writing. Even though I think it’s a challenge to understand all its layers and embedded messages, I couldn’t put the book down because reading her prose – just letting the words wash over me – felt like some sort of purification in and of itself. It felt like my soul was soaking in mercy and healing itself at the same time. I love her honesty and rawness and sensitive nature. I appreciate her occasional foul language and her ability to make Bible stories accessible.

One of my favourite aspects of her writing is the range of stories and inspiration from which she draws. For example, a theme about finding mercy (via grace and serenity) was addressed by a range of her teachers. She offers that when asked about his secrets to serenity, the great Indian teacher Krishnamurti offers, “I don’t mind what happens.” An elderly priest and friend shares, “Don’t try harder – resist less.” Finally, a rabbi friend once said on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, that while rabbis usually urge us to atone for our sins and try to be better people, she thought we should try to be worse.

I personally cannot count the times in my life when I truly believed that if only I stayed up later, worked harder, sweated more… I would be in control and the answer was just around the next bend. And I drove myself crazy. I believed that the answer was in the doing. What if the answer, all along, is in the being? What if mercy is the space and the pause between the busyness and madness we create within the illusion of being in control?

Anne serves up complex metaphors with equal skill as she does tweetable quotes. And so, whether you choose to read it slowly and unpack the depth, or whether you speed along and let the inspiration breeze through your hair, you will be all the better for having read Hallelujah Anyway and for rediscovering mercy.

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.

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