How can you not like a book with a title like this? That's what I thought when I first saw Jana Reiss' book in the seminary bookstore. After all, if we're truthful, aren't we all sort-of sainthood flunkees? And I was intrigued by her desire to master a different spiritual discipline every month, if not also a little skeptical.
Partway through this book, though, I became annoyed at Jana Riess, wondering why she ever thought she could master a spiritual practice in a month, and what even gave her the impression that the idea was to master them? I even thought (for a moment) that she knew all along that she would be a failure. Her (mostly) self-deprecating humor, though disarming, also made me think that she had to have known that spiritual practices wouldn't be that easy. I also thought it was weird of her to try to take on a spiritual practice alone, when they are really meant to be practiced (at least for the most part) in community.
But a funny thing happened. I started to get to know her. And sympathize with her. And realize that even though she is ironic and sarcastic and funny, she took on these spiritual practices in all earnestness. She often makes the point that she is from a low-church tradition that doesn't have much experience with disciplined prayer and spiritual experiences. Whether she failed or not (and I actually think that she didn't) she learned a lot during the year, and I did too. Even the practices I knew something about (and I am a constantly failing practicer of 'fixed-hour prayer', for example) I learned something new about.
And in the end, Jana made several of the points that I did: that she should have practiced spiritual disciplines in community more than in solitude, and that 'getting good' is not as important as learning to trust God. She finds that however much she considers herself a failure, the year of practicing prayer and fasting and generosity and gratitude (among other things) has prepared her and helped her mature as a Christian.
As I reflect back on reading this book, I think that one of the things that most churches are not good at is Adult Faith Formation. We teach Sunday School and try to run awesome confirmation programs, but for some reason Adult Christian Education Falls flat. It seems to me that Adult Faith formation is actually more important that Sunday School, and making Sunday School our priority gives the impression that the things of God are childish things.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Faith, real faith, faith that goes the distance, is NOT for sissies. This book could be a good start of a conversation about how we nurture adult faith in congregations.