Flunking Sainthood, by Jana Reiss (Review)

January 18, 2013 Book Reviews 0

Jana Reiss’s Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor was a Christmas gift from my parents.  As soon as I saw the title, I knew I was going to like this book – and I do.  With wry insight and down-to-earth humor, Reiss chronicles the year she spent trying twelve spiritual practices, only to fall short of her aspirations by the end of each month.  Yet even in her “failures” (a decidedly relative term), she is challenged and grows with each practice she attempts.  Ultimately she realizes that even the act of striving and failing teaches profound spiritual lessons.
I found it very easy to relate to Reiss’s attempts to become more “saintly” through various types of prayer, reading the Bible, vegetarianism, keeping the Sabbath, hospitality, and generosity.  For one thing, many of the practices Reiss tackles are familiar to me; I’ve either tried or contemplated most of them, though never with the eager abandon Reiss exhibits at the beginning of each month.  But this isn’t simply a book about spiritual practices and what one can learn or gain from attempting them.  On a deeper level, it’s about the search for perfection and our inevitable failure to reach it.  Reiss jumps into each practice full of enthusiasm and high hopes for success, only to become discouraged as she falls short of her self-imposed ideal.  She could be writing about my life, or that of any perfectionist.  What’s funny – besides Reiss’s straight-talking, often humorous observations – is that from the outside, I can see so clearly that Reiss really isn’t failing even when she feels she is.  There’s a lesson in that for me: just because I’m not doing something perfectly or consistently or measuring up to whatever insanely high bar I’ve set for myself, it doesn’t mean that I’m therefore failing.  If I had to choose a single insight from this book to incorporate into my own thinking, it would be that one.
Which doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other insights here… not to mention inspiration, as well as no small measure of laughter.  While Flunking Sainthood will speak most clearly to Christians (especially those comfortable with a little humor in their relationship with God), it has something to say to anyone who has ever tried – and “failed” – to do better.

Category: Nonfiction; religion
Book Source: gift

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