SENSING HER spiritual life is lacking a certain oomph, Jana Riess tries an experiment: 12 spiritual practices in 12 months. Guided by the writings of folks such as Richard Foster, Phyllis Tickle, and Brother Lawrence, Riess attempts everything from centering prayer and fasting to lectio divina and welcoming the stranger. “We can’t really hear what God is saying, or let it sink into our souls and beings, until we have tried to do what God is saying,” she explains. “The practice precedes the belief, not the other way around.”
At least, that’s the theory. But as she chronicles in Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving my Neighbor (Paraclete Press), Riess’ crash course in spiritual discipline is punctuated by more flopping failure than soaring success. By the time her year is up, Riess concludes that her holy experiment was more “delusional” than ambitious.
Known to the Twitter community as “The Twible Lady” for tweeting the entire Bible in snarky, 140 character summaries (Proverbs 27: “As iron sharpens iron, so friends sharpen each other. Please note that this is only a metaphor. Do not carve your friends.”), Riess leavens the pages of Flunking Sainthood with the same delightful irreverence. Mincing no words, she calls St. Benedict “a crafty old coot” and St. Thérèse of Lisieux a “first-class diva.” She swears during silent meditation. And when trying to find God in the daily tasks of life, such as cleaning, Riess considers whether “a quicker route to genuine religious experience would be to snort the spray cleaner and get high on fumes.”