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Book Review: Hallelujah Anyway

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Kathryn Drury Wagner

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

By Anne Lamott

Riverhead Books

Anne Lamott is the spiritual writing world’s Ernest Hemingway—her sentences are brave and clean and true, and they simply slay you, leaving you teary-eyed in the bathtub. (She’s funnier than Hemingway, though, to be fair.) Her nine works of nonfiction include New York Times best-sellers like Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year and Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers. She is also the author of seven novels and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In short, she’s a writer’s writer.

Her latest book, Hallelujah Anyway, takes its title from a gospel song. In it, she discusses where we can turn when we are rattled, fearful, stranded, or treating ourselves viciously: it’s a place called mercy. “Mercy is radical kindness,” she explains. “Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves forgiving the debt, absolving the unabsolvable…the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.” I didn’t see any references in this deeply personal work to the United States and the current political climate, but, man—this book could be a balm for some of the wounds that need tending.

Throughout, Lamott uses biblical teachings and parables, as well as stories from her own life, to help us recognize the role of mercy. She reminds us that God is unfailingly present for us, offering up mercy. “What’s the catch?” she asks. “The catch is that there is no catch.” Just accept. Likewise, be willing to dole out some mercy of your own. And then? As Lamott writes, “Saint Francis says that after doing what is necessary, we move on to what is possible.” 

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