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

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Length: 192 pages

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Editorial Reviews


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 Therese 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, 2011

STARRED REVIEW - Publishers Weekly - 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.(Nov.)

About the Author

Jana Riess is the author or editor of nine books, including What Would Buffy Do? Although she is a spiritual failure and was never able to climb the rope in gym class, she has a doctorate from Columbia University and teaches religion at Miami University. She blogs at

Product Details

  • File Size: 403 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Paraclete Press (September 24, 2011)
  • Publication Date: September 24, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005PFV1HG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #347,145 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Jana Riess is the author or editor of many books, the most recent being "The Twible," which has all the chapters in the Bible in 140 characters or less . . . now with 68% more humor! Her 2011 book "Flunking Sainthood" was selected as one of the top ten religion books of the year by "Publishers Weekly."

Although she is a spiritual failure and was never able to climb the rope in gym class, she has a doctorate from Columbia University and works as an editor in the publishing industry. So she's not a total loser. She blogs for the Religion News Service at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Barney on October 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
I first learned about this project from a Facebook update Jana had written, in which she alluded to a Muslim-style fast she was undertaking for a new book project. I was a little bit confused, because it was February, and Ramadan did not fall in February that year. She explained to me that she picked February to make the challenge of the fasting easier, since it is a short month with short days. (This is clearer in the book, where the inspiration for fasting was clearly the Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers, and she follows Muslim practices just because the practices of the Desert Saints were so very extreme.)

The original plan was for Jana to spend a year reading great spiritual classics, but overachiever that she is, Jana decided not only to read spiritual classics, but to actually try her hand at the spiritual disciplines they encouraged. So she spent one month coming up with the plan and the next 11 months trying to live the disciplines. Here is the timetable of her year immersed in these practices (from the Table of Contents):

Januwary: choosing practices
February: fasting in the desert
March: meeting Jesus in the kitchen...or not
April: lectio divination
May: nixing shoppertainment
June: centering prayer, er, The Jesus Prayer, Look! a squirrel!
July: unorthodox sabbath
August: thanksgiving every day
September: benedictine hospitality
October: what would Jesus eat?
November: seven five three times a day will I praise you [imagine the seven and five are struck through]
December: generosity

The original idea was for her to write about her experience accomplishing these various spiritual disciplines. But there was a problem: On some level, she failed at all of them.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Schroder on October 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
It's not often that a book makes me both laugh and cry, but the early chapters of this were so funny, and the ending so heartfelt, that "Flunking Sainthood" tickled my funny bone AND tugged at my heartstrings. The author takes on (and fails) lots of different spiritual practices including an Orthodox Jewish Sabbath, a Ramadan fast, Benedictine hospitality, and a generosity project to raise money for charity.

Riess wants to push her limits but also not go too far, so she says she won't be plucking her eyes out for God (a la St. Lucia), living on top of a pole for 37 years (St. Simeon the Stylite) or parading naked in the town square (St. Francis).

I liked Riess' honesty and humor, and the quotations about spiritual growth in every chapter (from Billy Joel's "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints" to thoughts from Dorothy Day and the Desert Fathers). This is a good book for people who are interested in spirituality but also want to keep it real and not be all holier-than-thou.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Love2Read on October 4, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I can't pick my favorite chapter. Reading about fasting, keeping the Sabbath, gratitude and other weighty matters, I don't know how Jana Riess makes it funny, but she just does! It doesn't matter if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Sikh, a Buddhist or whatever, this book will entertain you AND teach you a few lessons about yourself. This will make a great gift for your friends and family who have everything. Enjoy it and buy a copy for a friend while you're at it!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert Cornwall on October 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
If you've ever tried to engage in spiritual practices like centering prayer and fasting and found yourself floundering, ending up feeling guilty about your spiritual failures rather than drawing closer to God, then have I got a book for you. While there are lots of books on the market, from ancient classics to modern spiritual how-to books, that will introduce you to spiritual practices and describe the many blessings that will come your way as a result, Flunking Sainthood is a welcome tonic that will add a bit of grace to your spiritual journey.

"Flunking Sainthood" is something of a spiritual memoir, in which Riess gives an account of a one-year experiment in reading through the spiritual classics, while simultaneously undertaking twelve spiritual practices (one per month). The experiment was devised as part of this book project, only things didn't work out as expected or at least hoped for. Rather than experiencing great spiritual success, she fell short in her quest. While not intended, her failures are a gift to us, a reminder that even the spiritual classics might not be all that helpful, and spiritual practices can be more of a distraction than an aid to spiritual growth.

The journey began in January with a period of discernment. While reading her first classic, St. Therese of Liseaux's "The Story of a Soul," she considered which spiritual practices to engage in over the next eleven months. What she discovered was that Therese was a bit of a drama queen. In spite of her less than successful encounters with the "Little Flower," she persisted with the plan and got busy with her readigns and practices.
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Format: Paperback
A surprisingly good and rewarding read, and one quite needed in the field of spiritual disciplines. Almost all books on observing those disciplines are, well, so focused on "discipline" that they tend to be rather grim and foreboding to read. The results for me have most often been putting it down after a chapter or two combined with decided disincentive to observe the discipline(s). It is a blessing to have a book that achieves quite the opposite. It is filled with good humor and quality writing. It has the added bonus of containing a knowledgeable discussion of the particular disciplines discussed along with insight into the actual experiences and flawed results of one who has attempted to follow them. In the end, moreover, the book succeeds where other more serious and "successful" authors fail: Reiss reveals the blessings in the attempt. She ends with a surprise twist in her life that gave her further insight into the year and into her surprising growth over the year. The result for me, at least, is a renewed interest in hanging with some of these practices because it turns out that the blessing is in doing them and not in "succeeding" at them.
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