Awake and Awakward’s #CBR5 Review #2: People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead by Gary Leon Hill

ImageWhen exploring clever ideas for books to read, it seemed an obvious choice to pick Gary Leon Hill’s Sixth Sense-esquely titled People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead and give it a once over. I was particularly glad that I did. While I would not classify myself as a believer in afterlife, God, or ghosts, I don’t NOT believe in them. Mr.Hill, however, comes from a family chalk full of people that not only know ghosts exist, but make a living in telling said ghosts to move on to the next world. I expected to find a bullet pointed list of ways to get rid of wayward souls and elaborations on said bullet points. What I got instead was a bunch of family stories, a couple of transcripts from recorded possessions, and a look into a different perspective on the afterlife.  Not what I was expecting, though I am definitely not complaining.

Hill explores the notion that when a person is ready for death, the ease into the next stage of higher being is a smooth one.  Those who believe in a heaven end up in a heavenly environment. Those who believe in Hell can end up stuck in their mind’s perception of Hell and can be rescued from an outside party.  Those who believe in nothingness simply drift into a black sleep and never return.   Then, there are those who die in a sudden instance, or under stress. Car crashes, suicides, sudden heart attacks, etc. While these souls are occasionally aware that something has changed, when not ready to die they run a high risk of just continuing on in a life where everyone is constantly ignoring them and it is exceedingly difficult to pick things up due to hands and arms that just go through things.   These souls may then go and attach themselves, most of the time by mistake, to another living person and unbeknownst to both parties begin living with the living again.   This proves problematic for the host, issues like depression, fatigue, and confusion are common issues.  There also appears to be an issue with a suicidal soul latching onto a living person and continuing to be suicidal.  Hill’s family steps in at this point and has developed a system that includes scripted dialogues and pendulums to ask the soul to kindly step aside and leave the living alone, while stepping towards that light in the sky with all your friends and relatives who want to kick it.

While I can say that I have never had an issue with hitchhiking souls, after reading this book I am sure of several things: 1. I am fairly certain I am just as confused about what happens after death as I was before I picked this book up, 2. I would really like to invest in a pendulum, and 3. I am undoubtedly convinced my husband has a hitchhiker, if not MULTIPLE hitchhikers, and I would probably like them removed.

3 out of 4 stars, I would not recommend to anyone who isn’t willing to be open minded as it gets a little far out there at points.

ABR’s #CBR5 Review #1: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

Help Thanks Wow Book CoverAfter the shootings in Newtown I  was obsessed with the news of the massacre. For days I couldn’t stop watching television coverage, couldn’t stop checking updates online. As much as I didn’t watch to watch, I couldn’t stop. I have a kindergartener, and the grief I felt thousands of miles away literally drove me to my knees. The only thing that felt appropriate was to pray, but in light of such a senseless act, I found myself speechless.

I’ve always been intimated by prayer. I can say the Lord’s Prayer with the best of them. On many a night I go to bed after whispering a prayer I memorized when I was 10, but I don’t know Bible verses or parables. I can’t compose a prayer that would make a congregation weep.

Years ago a friend gave me a copy of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies to read on vacation. I was instantly enamored, but for every quote, every anecdote that struck a chord, the one thing that stood above all else was Lamott’s interpretation of prayer. In Traveling Mercies she proposes the best prayers are “Thank you” and “Help me.” Those are my kinds of prayers.

And that is why I was immediately drawn to Lamott’s latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Consider it a primer for prayer, an elaboration on the thought she introduces in Traveling Mercies. It reinforces her belief that prayers should be simple.

If you aren’t familiar with Anne Lamott, she has been writing since 1979, when she published her first book of fiction. I particularly enjoy her non-fiction. Operating Instructions, the autobiographical account of her pregnancy and childbirth and the first year of her son Sam’s life, is the perfect antidote to smug, trendy pregnancy books. She has written about motherhood, family, alcoholism, addiction, recovery, and throughout her work are the themes of faith, forgiveness, gratitude, grace.

Lamott’s latest book evenly covers the essential prayers of Help, Thanks and Wow, with a closing chapter called, naturally, Amen.

“Help” is the prayer we issue when we are at our worst, our “most degraded and isolated.” This is the prayer I think most of us would utter now. In a world of violence and global warming and the fiscal cliff, “Help” is the first great prayer. There are great prayers in the world – the “good china of prayers” – but when people around the world are at the end of their rope, regardless of their belief or religion, they ask for help. To do so is to relinquish control to a greater being or greater force.

There are many reasons to say “Thanks.” It may be relief. It may be true gratitude or appreciation or anything in between, “from the daily break of good luck and found money, to the magical, mystical magnetic force or quiet or exuberant relief, when you know something – God, fate, luck, kismet, the law, Powerball – has smiled on you big-time.” But the “Thanks” prayer is important because it leads to gratitude. It becomes action and behavior and habit.

“Wow” is the third great prayer. It is “offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unhidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace. “Wow” means we are not dulled to wonder.” Lamott believes there are two kinds of “wow” prayers: lowercase and uppercase. Lowercase wows are the daily blessings we often take for granted: clean sheets, hot shower, good coffee. Uppercase wows are wondrous, often mind-boggling or miraculous: the Grand Canyon, childbirth.

The “Wow” chapter was my favorite part of the book. No matter your religious or spiritual beliefs, anyone can surely marvel at a beautiful sunset or a child giggling on a merry-go-round. And the paragraphs that talk about the wonders of each season are truly poetic.

In the “Amen” chapter Lamott sums up the attitude and reason behind prayer. She quotes C.S. Lewis, who said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” You don’t have to know who you are praying to or what you are specifically praying for, but just the act of slowing down, finding a corner of quiet, and asking for help or expressing gratitude or wonder, is a start.

At 102 pages (tall, narrow pages at that) Help, Thanks, Wow is certainly something you can read on a rainy afternoon or over a couple lunch hours. Even if you don’t buy Lamott’s concept of prayer, her writing is, as usual, entertaining, humorous, bittersweet and thought provoking. You don’t have to agree with her concepts to appreciate her thoughts. The next time a stranger helps you fix a flat tire or you see a perfect snowfall on Christmas day, you’ll think about this book.