Anne Lamott was doing a reading early this year of her book “Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son” when someone in the audience asked for her thoughts on prayer.
Not the “Our father who art in heaven” kind of prayer Jesus recites in the Gospel of Matthew, but “plainer and maybe more accessible to everyone.” Lamott’s response, she said, was she needed only three words: help, thanks and wow. Her publisher, who was in the audience, was so moved he asked her to consider it for a book.
What Lamott came up with was “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.”
“The Lord’s Prayer is a perfect distillation of everything Jesus thought we needed to say,” Lamott said in a telephone interview en route to Seattle, her first stop on a 13-city book tour across the country.
Lamott said her main hope is people will connect within themselves the breath and pulse of the divine.
“I’m not trying to convert people to Christianity,” she said. “I’m trying to show people that A, they are probably already praying and B, with the intention to connect to a higher power through prayer that their lives will become more spacious and more beautiful, and after that who knows what might be waiting in the wings.”
In advance of a recent book sigining in Atlanta, we asked her three questions:
Q. You say early in the book “repent! Oh wait, never mind. I meant help,” but isn’t repentance necessary for answered prayer?
A. Repent is such a heavy word I try not to use it because people have been bludgeoned to death with it. Both help and repent mean you stop the train of self-will and come back to what’s ancient and timeless. … Often people say “help me, God” without believing there is a God, but they have surrendered and are willing to entertain the possibility that someone’s listening.
Q. How do we learn, as Scripture admonishes us, to give thanks in all things? And why is it so important to express gratitude in our daily prayer?
A. I wouldn’t say I’m grateful in all things, but … the habit of gratitude is the single most blessed, positive, enjoyable mental state to be in. If you don’t say thanks, you’re missing the boat completely. All day every day there are blessings and funny little surprises … when we get a better diagnosis, when we find out the transmission is fine and it’s the timing belt.
Q. Finally, you say that when all we can say is wow, that’s prayer. I agree, but is this “Wow, look what God did” or is it reverence, “Wow, God, you’re awesome”?
A. It’s everything – the point at which we don’t have any more words to express our wonder. You step outside and look up at the starry night and you don’t say “Oh, ho hum, whatever.” You say “Wow, hallowed be thy name, and I’m speechless at the size and the mystery.” It’s more about the mystery than consciously putting into words the splendor.