Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dusting Off: Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess

Ms. Riess is a member of my faith, a Latter-day Saint, and I appreciate her openness to exploring how the practices of other faith traditions can help her spiritual life.  This book, along with Project Conversion and several other experiences I had around the same time, was a major factor in shifting my focus to interfaith outreach.  There's so much to learn from others!


In the prologue, Ms. Riess mentions how when she presented her editor with the result of her year of trying out a dozen spiritual practices, none of which she felt she successfully completed, she felt "dejected" because of her failures. Her editor encouraged her to view her experiences in a different light and shift the focus of the book to exploring the "wild acceptability of failure." Which I like. But after reading the book, I don't think she was a failure at all.

Ms. Riess may not have perfected any of the approaches she tested during the year, but in her own words, she refused to allow the "perfect" to be "the enemy of good." She points out that "numbers don't tell the whole story: I feel closer to God and to the communion of saints. That's got to count for something, because it feels like it means everything." Exactly! All of these practices she explores, whether fasting, generosity, Sabbath observance, or a specific type of prayer, are means to an end: growing closer to God. And if her sincere but imperfect attempts helped her creep even an inch or two closer to the Divine, I don't think it can count as a failure.

I liked the varied sources from which she drew and I've added several of them to my reading list. The quotes from saints and others scattered throughout in sidebars were thought-provoking. And Ms. Riess added her own snarky, self-deprecating little asides on practically every page that were encouraging in their very recognition of the universality of imperfection, the desire for closeness with God and with others, and the human drive for personal improvement.

I do wish that some of the chapters were expanded. 12 or 14 pages hardly seems enough to cover a month's worth of experiences, thoughts, and study of hospitality, mindfulness, or scripture reading. But on the whole, I found Ms. Riess's book enlightening, challenging, encouraging and insightful. It's one I'll read again.


Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor
by Jana Riess
ISBN: 9781557256607
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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