This collection of essays is a meditation on mercy (It's more in line with her book Help, Thanks, Wow than Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith). "Mercy," she writes, "is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable." And it's much easier to write about extending mercy than in actually giving it, as she is clear to point out in her usual wit and honesty. As with all of her books, there is references to pop culture, theology and literature.
Lamott writes about how extending mercy costs: both in her own, personal life as well as on a much grander scale (Hiroshima, Tibetan nuns who were tortured by and later prayed for their Chinese guards or the relatives of those whose family members were gunned down in Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston). She also covers the mercy needed in something as normal as growing older, in the chapter entitled "Life Cycles." She makes overly familiar biblical stories like "The Good Samaritan" the raising of Lazarus, Paul's thorn in the flesh, or the story of Ruth fresh and utterly relatable.
"Mercy means compassion," she says, "empathy, a heart for someone's troubles. It's not something you do - it is something in you, accessed, revealed, or cultivated through use, like a muscle. We find it in the most unlikely places, never where we first look." She certainly discovers this when she helps an elderly woman grieving over the suicide of her son, when Lamott discovers how "great trauma can also be so ordinary." "Where in the aftermath of suicide," she asks, "does one even begin to believe in mercy again?" It's devastating and she writes with such compassion and tenderness that resonates deeply in those reading her words. "God doesn't give us answers. God gives us grace and mercy. God gives us Her own self."
Anne Lamott can write. She knows how to draw the reader in, make the reader care, make them think, laugh, and begin to ask themselves, "How am I extending mercy towards others? Towards myself?" And isn't that something we all need more of in this day and age? Don't we all need a little bit more mercy?
In the midst of these "scary, unsettling times," Hallelujah Anyway makes me grateful that there's an Anne Lamott in this world to make it a little less so.