It's not easy being a Marin County liberal/recovering alcoholic/baby boomer-turned-Christian. That's hardly the friendliest demographic for weekly churchgoing, much less for writing about it.

But Anne Lamott, in her self-deprecating and approachable way, has pulled it off for years, memorably conveying her struggles with faith in a series of books -- the best of which is, by my lights, "Traveling Mercies."

In her newest offering, Lamott explores prayer, the main categories of which she sums up in her title: "Help, Thanks, Wow." Prayer is a topic that can quickly turn treacly, but the reader needn't fear that in Lamott's irreverent hands.

She starts, as AA does, by opening up the whole notion of to whom we address our prayers -- "the force," "the Really Real," "the great mystery," etc., being just as acceptable as "God" -- and then reminds us that "prayer is talking" rather than a prescribed set of words.

We're drawn to prayer, Lamott argues, in those situations most likely to inspire it: When life pushes us to ask for help, give thanks or marvel at "the mesmerizing or the miraculous."

If you seek a pithy explication of prayer, as understood by one reliably funny Christian, this is your book. But if you're hoping for fully realized stories about Lamott's own wrestling with religion, like those found in her previous books on faith, you'll be disappointed. This is more self-help manual than essay collection.