Recently named one of Publishers Weekly's Top 100 Books of 2011!
This wry memoir tackles twelve different spiritual practices in a quest to become more saintly, including fasting, fixed-hour prayer, the Jesus Prayer, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, and generosity. Although Reiss begins with great plans for success ("Really, how hard could that be?" she asks blithely at the start of her saint-making year), she finds to her growing humiliation that she is failing - not just at some of the practices, but at every single one. What emerges is a funny yet vulnerable story of the quest for spiritual perfection and the reality of spiritual failure, which turns out to be a valuable practice in and of itself.
Table of Contents
Behind the scenes
January - Choosing practices
February - Fasting in the desert
March - meeting Jesus in the kitchen. . . or not
April - Lectio divination
May - nixing shopertainment
Centering Prayer er, The Jesus Prayer Look! a squirrel!
July - Unorthodox Sabbath
August - thanksgiving every day
September - Benedictine Hospitality
October - what would Jesus eat?
seven five three times a day will I praise you
December - Generosity
Epilogue - Practice makes imperfect
It's clear from the start of this sparkling and very funny memoir that Riess means well. But as she readily admits, she's a spiritual failure. She intended to devote an entire year ("a year-long experiment") to mastering 12 different spiritual challenges, including praying at fixed times during the day, exhibiting gratitude, observing the Sabbath, practicing hospitality according to the rules set by St. Benedict, abstaining from eating meat, and amply demonstrating her generosity. But nothing turned out as planned. Rather than being moved by Thérèse of Lisieux's The Story of a Soul, she instead dismisses the saint as a "drama queen." And Reiss is unregenerately practical. The best month to fast, she reasons, is February, at the height of winter; conveniently, it's also the shortest month of the year. Furthermore, at best, she's a "lukewarm vegetarian." Although her spiritual quest falls far short, she can still proffer spiritual lessons. Anyone who has failed to live up to expectations, which means most everyone, will love this book. Booklist,
September 15, 2011STARRED REVIEW Punchy humor and unpretentious inquisitiveness combine in this absorbing memoir
in which former PW editor Riess (What Would Buffy Do?
) commits to both adopting and studying a new religious practice each month for a year, while simultaneously reflecting on her spiritual progress.
Choosing such diverse disciplines as fasting "like a Muslim during Ramadan," exploring lectio divina, observing an Orthodox Jewish Sabbath, practicing Benedictine hospitality, and engaging in the Liturgy of the Hours, the author shares frustrations and insights in a manner likely to amuse and comfort readers, especially those who have attempted such exercises and also found them challenging. For example, Riess's description of her internal dialogue during Centering Prayer, concludes, " ‘Shut the hell up!' yells Spiritual Mind," while her experience of practicing mindfulness, with annoying help from the never sainted Brother Lawrence, leads to a sympathetic observation that he's "an underappreciated housewife." Supporting quotes from saints and writers (St. John Chrysostom, Dorothy Day, Thornton Wilder) pepper the text. The author's declared "failures" make her a sympathetic witness, while such "successes" as her description of how "[g]ratitude practically tackles me," prove genuinely moving. A witty, inspiring read. - Publishers Weekly
"Flunking Sainthood has to be the most entertaining introduction to spiritual disciplines ever written. If your taste in spiritual discipline runs to hair shirts and beds of nails, you probably won't care for this book. As an honest, funny, irreverent introduction to time-honored Christian practices, however, it can't be beat." - Lavonne Neff