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Devin Berry

Denominations in America

Dr. Trott

March 1, 2009

Book Report

Anne Lamott is a political activist, single mother, Christian, former alcoholic, and author of

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, amongst other works. In Traveling Mercies, she

chronicles her life from her days as a young adult, dealing with the death of her father. She

continues through her adulthood and the unpleasant experiences she has, all the way up to present

day where she is an accomplished author whose biggest problem is no longer alcoholism or drugs,

but rather being the mother of a teenage boy.

Through out her early life Anne Lamott hopped around from denomination to denomination

trying to find one that fit. Her faith was not an instant leap to a particular religion, but rather she

staggered from church to church. As a child, she spent most of her time going to a Catholic church

with a friend. She loved the Catholic Church because of the “sickly sweet rotting pomegranate

smells of the incense. I loved the overwrought altar, the birdbath of holy water, the votive candles; I

loved that there was a poor box, and the Stations of the Cross rendered on the stained glass of the

windows.” (7) It was the atmosphere of the Catholic Church that drew Lamott in and it was being

able to identify herself as something that was enticing.

Her father had been raised in Tokyo because his parents were Presbyterian missionaries. He

despised all forms of Christianity. Her mother had grown up in England as an Episcopalian and still
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went to the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. She says that no one in her family believed in God.

She would sometimes go to church with her grandparents and loved it, but would pretend that it

was foolish to appease her father. She was the best friend of someone who was a Christian

Scientist, which her father considered the worst denomination.

Once Anne Lamott got to college, she gave religion a second chance. On top of her English

and philosophy classes, she also “took religion, in deference to this puzzling thing inside me that

had begun to tug on my sleeve from time to time, trying to get my attention.” (23) She read about

Augustine and learned about looking for God. While she was exploring religion in college, she

made many friends who were Jewish. On a long weekend, she met a friend’s mother, who was a

Zionist and told Lamott about her views of the Israeli/Syrian issues and Lamott quickly adopted the

same views. She soon noticed that her friends did not believe in God, their beliefs surrounded

social justice, Better Midler, Israel, and good works, but not God.

During the time she spent in college, she was not looking for a particular faith group to

identify herself with, but rather she was on a search for truth. In order to find truth, she read East

Indian poetry, sat in chapels, and tried to learn to pray. It was Kierkegaard’s book Fear and

Trembling, which influenced her life, the most. This book broke down God into terms that were

understandable. It was able to take the story of Abraham, which Lamott viewed as an example of a

horrible and warped God and made her realize that Abraham would have done anything to have a

life with his God in it.

When she told her friends about how the book had changed her they decided that they

needed to have a bat mitzvah, even though she was not becoming Jewish. For the Bat Mitzvah, one

of her friends took on the role of a rabbi, and she selected a prayer that had been written by a

friend. At the Bat Mitzvah, she recited it: Help for the sick and hungry, home for the homeless folk,
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peace in the world forever, this is my prayer, O Lord. Amen. While she and her friends were not

religious, they were ethical.

For a long, time Anne Lamott cared more about drugs than religion. Her drinking began in

high school and only escalated in college and into her adulthood. During the two years that she

attended college, she was heavily into marijuana and soon developed a habit for LSD and then

cocaine. Accompanied with the avid drug use was frequent sex with different people. After she

dropped out of college, the drunkenness escalated and she became bulimic. In spite of all her

activities, she never stopped believing in God. That day in class, when she read Kierkegaard had

truly changed her. She had created her own form of God. A God put together from different

traditions: a little bit of Eastern traditions, some pagan, a little Hebrew and some Western


In April of 1984, Lamott discovered that she was pregnant. Though she has already become

a published author, she did not have the money to provide for a child. Her friend took her to have

an abortion, which would lead to a change in her life. A week after her abortion she began to bleed

very heavily and bled until she was very weak. In her weakened state, she thought someone was in

her room and assumed it was her deceased father, but she soon knew without a doubt that it was

Jesus. She did not instantly become a Christian because she was afraid of what her friends would

think of her so she decided that she would rather die than become a Christian. A week after this

experience, she went back to church for the first time in a very long time. She cried during the

service, left before the benediction and continued to cry at home. It was that day that she finally

decided to welcome God into her heart.

She continued to go to church and listen to the sermon and for the first time she wanted to

hear about Jesus and searched for more clues about Him. In the following year, she gave up drugs
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and drinking and got baptized. She got pregnant again, but this time she decided to keep the baby

and here friends were there to support her. Her son, Sam, was born in August of 1989 and she had

him baptized three months later. Once she became a Christian she became very dedicated to the

church, “ I think we have missed church ten times in twelve years.” (54)

Though she did not like it, she became a recovering alcoholic; “I thought maybe I could

find a few loopholes in the basic premise of abstinence.” (187) It was her church family that helped

her get healthy. She revealed to her circle of women all of her dirty secrets. Life instantly got


Anne Lamott went from an atheist to a pseudo-Jew to a believer in her own being to a

Christian to a famous Christian author. At the same time, she went from an alcoholic to a drug

addict to a complete mess to a responsible sober mother. She went through many things that aided

her spiritual journey and many things that delayed her journey and caused roadblocks. In the end

the found God and realized what God was capable of in her life.