A meditation on the benefits of discovering and extending mercy.
In her recent books, bestselling author Lamott (Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, 2014, etc.) has increasingly delved into the challenges of finding and sustaining faith, especially when confronting incidences of misfortune or cruelty. Often drawing on her own experiences as a mother and devoted friend, her struggles with alcoholism, finding solace and sustenance by embracing Christianity, and embracing a sense of community, the author offers spiritually enhancing, life-affirming lessons, often punctuated with her signature wit and accessible wisdom. In examining the nature of what it means to be merciful, Lamott treads over a good deal of her inner landscape that will be familiar to her readers. As usual, her examples are loaded with references from pop culture, literature, and philosophy, but she draws most extensively from Scripture. The biblical stories serve to provide fuller dimension to the many forms in which mercy may present itself and reflect on the most awe-inspiring results. Lamott also touches on some extreme examples from our recent past—e.g., the relatives of the nine people gunned down at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston in 2015 speaking of forgiveness for the killer or teenage Tibetan nuns who were tortured in prison but later prayed for the Chinese guards who had held them captive. “When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like, especially a truly awful person, including ourselves,” writes the author, “we experience a great spiritual moment, a new point of view that can make us gasp. It gives us the chance to rediscover something both old and original, the sweet child in us who, all evidence to the contrary, was not killed off, but just put in the drawer.”
Lamott always delivers flashes of wisdom and inspiration that resonate, particularly with her most devoted readers, but the book is a somewhat opaque and redundant exercise that never quite feels grounded.