Make it short and pungent. That seems to be the spiritual recipe for Tibetan Buddhists who condense the teachings of their teachers into pith instructions, A.A. members who use a wide variety of slogans to get through a day at a time, and ordinary people around the world who love proverbs as common sense wisdom.

Anne Lamott, the bestselling spiritual writer who always has something smart and sassy to say, makes her own contribution to succinct devotional literature by reducing prayer to three words: help, thanks, and wow. She admits to not knowing much about prayer or God but then does a spiffy job dealing with the mysteries surrounding both. At the core of her faith is the idea that "prayer can be motion and stillness and energy — all at the same time."

We turn to "God" (or whatever term you want to use) for help in a world ravaged and savaged by war, violence, hatred, disasters, disease, and death. Lamott suggests that even if we surrender it all to the Creator, we will still be "crabby optimists" who are fed up and appalled by the injustices and tragedies in our lives and in our times and yet are not willing to give up our reliance upon divine grace. Tenderness and mercy come through people in so many astonishing ways. Lamott shares many of her prayers calling for help and then reveals the miracles of light and peace and beauty she has seen.

"Thanks" covers a lot of territory and opens many doors. Lamott links the spiritual practice of gratitude with grace as she recalls a hymn sung at her church: "God has smiled on me. He has set me free." Life throws a lot of pain and loss and suffering and death at us. But "thank you" is our shield and motto as we wade through the troubles and bad days. Gratitude makes us want to please God:

"I really believe that God's idea of a good time is also to see us sharing what we have worked so hard to have, or to see us flirting with the old guy in line at the health food store, telling him our grandfather had a hat just like his, even though that is a lie."

The third and last great prayer is "Wow" which Lamott defines as "having one's mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes." With her typical elan, she talks about movies, children, fireworks, poetry, buds opening, and spring as eliciting "wow" in her mind, body, and soul. With a great and lyrical rush of joy and enthusiasm, she sets our pulses racing with this paean to the creation and the bounteous treasures of people, places, and things!