Friday, July 22, 2016

Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor

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Rating: 4 Stars

I took so many notes while reading this one, so please be patient with me as I try to succinctly describe why I adored this book.

First, the basic premise of the book is that the author began in the month of January to plan the rest of her year, month-by-month, which religious practice she would look at in-depth and try to complete consistently. As you may have guessed from the title, she fails at nearly every single one, but still learns a lot along the way. I, in turn, learned a lot from her. Additionally, she reads books related to whichever religious practice she is attempting each month. As a major bookworm, I find those additional books as valuable as the text itself. I want my knowledge to grow deeper, and reading is one of the best ways I learn, so, win-win.

When Riess starts February off with fasting, I know personally it is something I am not able to do - at least in the classical sense of abstaining from food for a set amount of time. I appreciate that the author addresses this exact thing, as she mentioned in the book SHE was reading about fasting that that authors notes there are some people who should not participate in food fasting. Among those listed are those who have struggled with an eating disorder. I find that to be crucial because anyone who has, knows just how easy it is to fall back into bad habits. There are certainly other ways to fast and things besides foo to abstain from that can be a legitimate substitute. In fact, social media would be a FANTASTIC example that we all could use a break from. Just sayin'.

I was especially interested in Chapter 4 - April and the practice of lectio divina, which the author describes as "an ancient spiritual practice that prescribes a way of discernment through reading and prayer" (page 39), and she also notes that this kind of prayer that is not praying for things you want or need, but "becoming one with God's will". Talk about intimidating, right? This is also the point in the book where it became abundantly clear that a month is not actually long enough to attempt most of these, or to become comfortable and familiar enough with them. That was my concern from the start, before I started reading the book. Riess addresses this herself around the same time that I started realizing it. She says, "This is where it becomes very clear that, like fasting in February, a month is not long enough to make any real headway with a new spiritual practice" (page 50). What also helped me through this chapter and to have a better understanding of what this practice is, I was getting as much from the tidbits the author including from the books she was reading for that month. I felt like that was as much of a guide at Riess herself and am interested to read some of the books she was also reading.

More than any other practice that the author attempted, June was the most interesting and pertinent month for me. It was in this month/chapter that Riess attempted 'contemplative prayer'. This kind of prayer is not just about praying for things either. Instead, it is the practice of, "being still...I'm in full agreement with the basic goal: that we stop yammering to God about our petty concerns and take the time to listen" (page 67). This is another practice I need a lot of help with. And not just contemplative prayer, but prayer in general even. I feel like I am repetitive, or not saying the right words and making it clear. And I logically know this is silly because God knows what I am trying to say even when I don't. I feel like I ask for too much and don't praise enough, but my praise sounds shallow even though it is sincere. It sounds silly even as I type it out. God knows my heart and my intentions, but I get so wrapped up in how/what I think about it, that I am not listening to Him. Enter, contemplative prayer. I need to just shut up and listen.

As an aside, I like the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner". 12 little words doesn't seem like a lot, but man the weight in those words is HUGE. Just saying it throughout the day, especially in times that I am frustrated or impatient or angry has helped immensely - not only to calm those feelings but to feel closer to God. This is, after all, something the author wants for herself, and something I want as well. She made the point earlier in the book that that was her purpose for completing these spiritual practices, that has the need to feel close to God. I have found through this prayer at random times during the day, and in those negative moments, helps me gain that feeling over and over again.

It should be no surprise then that November's practice, praying the hours, is incredibly intriguing to me as well. I love the idea of this, and have always been intrigued by it. As a teacher in a public school though, I don't know how well this would be received. I would assume there is some rule that is this were part of my religion, they have to let me take the time off briefly to pray. I could see how it would make some people upset or be seen as a bother and not something to be taken seriously by some co-workers. It is something I will have to consider carefully.

For the author's December practice, she put into action her plan of 'never saying no' and giving generously to anyone who would ask. She set a monetary goal to reach and in the ensuing chapter the act of tithing came up. This is something that is tough to do for many people, myself included because I am a poor teacher with no money. I do tithe, though I am not up to 10% yet. After a long, long, long conversation with my own pastor, we came up with an idea and plan that I am implementing because this really is so important to me. Something that confused me was the author stating something to the effect of 'imagine what could be accomplished if everyone tithed 10% of their after-tax income' (not a direct quote). I was confused because I thought you were suppose to tithe BEFORE taxes, out of your gross income?

Other things of note:

My pastors are mentioned in this book on page 112! It was neat to see anecdotes of them in print (one of my two pastors ((they're married)) lent me the book to borrow - they are friends with the author).

Monasteries are forever intriguing to me. It is almost embarrassing to admit that it never occurred to me that they might exist in the US. Like, duh Sarah. But I have never really thought about them in the modern sense. Mostly when I hear or read the word monastery, it conjures images of Ol' Henry destroying them in England in the 1500s.

Two quotes I especially liked:

"Sodom and its neighboring town Gomorrah were destroyed not because men were having sex with cows or each other - despite the unfortunate fact that the word Gomorrah sounds like a venereal disease - but because their people tried to kill God's messengers" (page 120). THANK YOU.

"I already know I am a crappy old sinner, even while everybody keeps telling me, in and out of church, that I'm basically a nice person. They're wrong. If I learned anything this year, especially from the Jesus Prayer back in June, it's that I'm a selfish worm" (page 151).

I feel ya, sister.

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