When I first encountered the title Flunking Sainthood: A year of breaking the sabbath, forgetting to pray, and still loving my neighbor, I thought, “That sounds like me in my stumbling efforts.” I sensed I would find a kindred spirit in author Jana Riess, and I read this memoir hungrily.
I enjoyed this book very much and could identify with the author’s longing to cultivate good habits and to deepen prayer life. I laughed aloud, and nodded my head in solidarity. I, too, have craved closeness with God, and tried many practices suggested by spiritual leaders. The chapter on praying the liturgy of the hours (or divine office) really struck home. I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to read morning psalms and then the compline prayer service at bedtime each day. Rather than feeling frustrated when I forget to do this, I enjoy the prayer time when it happens. After all, the quiet time is a gift to myself, and not an obligation in any way.
The chapter on Benedictine hospitality sent me straight to the library so that I could reread the Rule of Saint Benedict. How I long to be able to live the instruction that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'” As Jana Riess experienced, it is not easy in our fast-paced culture to slow down and enjoy our unexpected encounters with people.
While I read Flunking Sainthood in two eager sittings, I appreciated that the book could be picked up once a month, taking one chapter at a time and trying a spiritual discipline alongside Jana Riess. For this reason Flunking Sainthood would make an ideal read for the start of the new year, when many of us try to adopt positive habits. Perhaps you long to try lectio divina, centering prayer, or a deeper sabbath observance. With Flunking Sainthood, you can enjoy the companionship of Jana Riess as you experiment and journey.
The honesty and sincerity in the writing of Jana Riess provide encouragement, inspiration, and laughter. I am excited to see that Paraclete Press has published a useful companion volume, Flunking Sainthood Every Day: A daily devotional for the rest of us.
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.
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© Studio of John the Baptist
Today is the feast day of Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Known as a man who expressed deep reverence for nature and who encouraged simple living, Francis is a beloved role model for people beyond the boundaries of the Christian church. We are fortunate that Francis left behind writings that can help us understand his ways of thinking and living.
Paraclete Press has published a lovely collection, Francis of Assisi in His Own Words: The essential writings. Translated, introduced, and annotated by Jon M. Sweeney, these writings are accessible to casual readers while also helpful to religion students. There are many books available on the life and writings of Francis, but this volume truly is a gem.
Several songs and prayers are included in this collection. Among these, I particularly appreciated Francis’ canticle for the women at the convent of San Damiano, the Poor Clares, which expresses simple beauty and heartfelt gratitude. When reading the rule, I appreciated Sweeney’s scripture citations in the margins. The language of the Bible was woven into the thinking of Francis and his contemporaries, while modern readers benefit from this extra help.
It can be easy to romanticize Francis of Assisi, but spending time with his writings provides a glimpse of the prayerful thinking at the foundation of his ministry. Through these writings, Francis continues to offer inspiration and practical advice for spiritual living. Within his words we can see evidence that Francis aimed to live his life in imitation of the gospel ways of Jesus of Nazareth.
I encourage you to support small publishers, and to explore the other titles about Francis of Assisi available from Paraclete Press.
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided for review purposes. No fee was received.
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This Wednesday, February 13, marks the beginning of Lent, the season preceding Easter in the Christian calendar. Many will observe a special period of prayer, perhaps including fasting and almsgiving as well.
Lent can be a time of renewal and spiritual rejuvenation. Lent provides an opportunity to be intentional about turning one’s mind and heart to God. Lent can create an increase in joy, as we undertake to remove obstacles that stand in the way of a connection with God.
May we all find inspiration in the writings of the prophet Isaiah, who reminds us to see individual spiritual practices within in a larger picture of relationships:
This is the fast that pleases me:
to break unjust fetters,
to let the oppressed go free,
to share your bread with the hungry
and shelter the homeless poor.
If you do away with the yoke,
the clenched fist, the wicked word,
if you give your bread to the hungry
and relief to the oppressed,
your light will rise in the darkness. (Isaiah 58:6-7, 10)
For prayer resources during Lent, to help keep the heart fixed on the peace and justice embodied by Jesus, I highly recommend Pax Christi USA. In particular, they offer a booklet The Light of Lent through the Gospels, written by Megan McKenna, which offers encouragement to “stretch out our hands and spirits to be for and with others.” This booklet contains not only scriptural reflections, but very practical ideas for how to apply teachings on peacemaking in daily life. Through reflection on how to live peacefully, may we be led to actions that show God’s love in the world.
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As a guide for exploring and reflecting on intercessory prayer, I recommend “Pray for Me”: The power in praying for others by Kenneth H. Carter Jr.
To me, prayer fundamentally is a mysterious experience. There is no way to explain it to someone who does not pray, or who thinks prayer is unnecessary. Prayer is something that has to be experienced. As for intercessory prayer, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams describes intercession simply as “thinking of someone or something in the presence of God.”
Over the years I have heard a wide range of questions about prayer from non-religious people: If God knows everything, why would God need you to pray for someone who is sick?; if God knows best, won’t God either heal or not heal, according to God’s own wishes?; why would God listen to one person’s prayer but not another’s? After reading “Pray for Me,” I feel better equipped to answer these questions—even though some of the answers remain very open-ended, grounded in mystery.
I agree with Carter that prayer is not asking God to fulfill wishes. Rather, prayer offers a path for growing in love for one another, for deepening our compassion, for learning to trust the outcomes to God and trust in God’s grace. If I say I will pray for someone, I am agreeing to enter into their pain or suffering, to stand with them, to cultivate a larger heart. On the spiritual path we are called to live in community and care for one another. Prayer can help us remember our interconnectedness. Ultimately, prayer is not for God, but a way of reminding ourselves to put God at the center, and to put the needs of others before our own needs.
As I read this helpful book, I kept hearing a lyric from U2’s “One”: “We get to carry each other.” It is the short answer to why I gladly will pray for others. May we grow in love for one another, and not lose heart.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book gratis from Upper Room Books.
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