Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

when we cry out Help, or whisper it into our chests, we enter the paradox of not going limp and not feeling so hopeless that we can barely walk, and we release ourselves from the absolute craziness of trying to be our own—or other people’s—higher powers.

Without revelation and reframing, life can seem like an endless desert of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, so many bits and chips and washes of color, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so many ways to sweep the sand off our feet. So we say, “Oh my God. Thanks.”

Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something.

So as Samuel Beckett admonished us to fail again, and fail better, we try to pray again, and pray better, for slightly longer and with slightly more honesty, breathing more, deeper, and with more attention.

Art makes it hard to ignore truth, that Life explodes and blooms, consumes, rots and radiates and slithers; that eternity really is in a blade of grass.

It is easy to thank God for life when things are going well. But life is much bigger than we give it credit for, and much of the time it’s harder than we would like.

Awe is why we are here. And this state is the prayer: “Wow.”

And imagination is from God. It is part of the way we understand the world. I think it’s okay to imagine God and grace the best you can. Some of the stuff we imagine engages and connects and calls for the very best in us to come out.

This is a hard planet, and we’re a vulnerable species. And all I can do is pray: Help.

As a tiny little control freak, I want to understand the power of Wow, so I can organize and control it, and up its rate and frequency. But I can’t. I can only feel it, and acknowledge that it is here once again. Wow.

The movement of grace toward gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening. Gratitude is peace. Maybe you won’t always get from being a brat to noticing that it is an e. e. cummings morning out the window. But some days you will.

A sober friend from Texas said once that the three things I cannot change are the past, the truth, and you. I hate this insight so much.

My personal belief is that God looks through Her Rolodex when She has a certain kind of desperate person in Her care, and assigns that person to some screwed-up soul like you or me, and makes it hard for us to ignore that person’s suffering, so we show up even when it is extremely inconvenient or just awful to be there.

Quiet, deep breath after any prayer is another form of Amen.

You say “Thank you” that in the revelation, whether it’s ordinary or difficult, this person you love has found a way to the balm of gratitude. What a relief.

Some etymologists think “wow” is a contraction of “I vow,” the short form of “Holy Glasgow. I’vow!” This theory sounds right to me.

When we are stunned to the place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it’s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is “Wow,” that’s a prayer.

“Wow” is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes.

Matisse actually said the most useful thing I’ve ever heard about praying: “I don’t know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I’m some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.”

So I pray constantly between bouts of trying to live life on life’s terms. Help. Thanks. Wow. I end most prayers with Amen, before my inevitable reentry into regular old so-called real life, because for thousands of years believers and prophets have said to.

The Amen is only as good as the attitude.

Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through. It is the first great prayer.

“Wow” means we are not dulled to wonder. We click into being fully present when we’re stunned into that gasp,

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott