Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

A More Spiritual 2012: Failing Forward with God

Resolving once again to be more spiritual. We'll see.

Happy New Year, friends. This year on my blog (which, BTW, is moving locations! More on that soon), I’ll be talking at least once a week about spiritual practices and how/whether to implement them. Why do we pray, give to charity, or practice hospitality? What is supposed to happen in our lives?

And what if transformation is slow or not forthcoming?


Along the way we’ll meet lots of people who are wiser than I am, bona fide experts on spiritual formation. In my book “flunking” is a gerund — I am still at it, for better or for worse. So I’m still seeking help from those who have journeyed farther along the path.

On Christmas Day the Globe and Mail in Toronto ran an interview with me about all my failures with Flunking Sainthood. This was my take on why we attempt spiritual practice:

You mentioned some of the spiritual gurus you tried to follow were pretty tiresome. Is it possible to be saintly without being smug?


I think it’s imperative that we be real about who we are and the fact that we fail. Especially if we do achieve any success or enlightenment in certain practices, we need to hold that lightly and realize that the practices don’t exist simply for our benefit, but so that we can benefit others. Fasting, prayer, they’re all very well, but the point is to bless the world. The point is not just for you in your own little world to be enlightened or achieve some goal, but to help humanity.

So as we look toward a more spiritual 2012, let’s remember why we do spiritual practices at all, and not beat ourselves up for doing them imperfectly. (I wrote this post in Florida, where I was on vacation last week. I blissfully broke the Sabbath and prayed perfunctorily or not at all. But all week I experienced deep gratitude. Go figure.)


In January our focus will be on spiritual practices in general, and then each month after that we’ll look at specific ones in turn, in the order I undertake them in the memoir: February for fasting (hey, the days are short), March for spiritual housekeeping (as if), April for lectio divina and Bible reading, etc. I’ve heard that some brave readers are actually going to take up some or all of these practices throughout 2012 — more power to them! I hope to hear about those experiences.

  • Alison Hodgson

    Jana, I actually remembered your chapter on gratitude this week, how the big things we ought to be grateful for, so often we aren’t. I fell down the stairs, Friday night and haven’t been able to do anything without pain since. I took pain free walking, sitting, standing, lying – you get the picture – for granted, I didn’t think to be grateful for any of it, and yet I’m thankful every day for the light slanting through our bedroom doorways into the hall, crisp apples and other seemingly less important things.

    I like your reminder of why we do spiritual practices. It’s so easy to be self-absorbed.

    Happy New Year.

    • Jana Riess

      Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear about your fall. I know what you mean about illness and injury — it’s hard to appreciate any aspect of our health until we no longer have it. I hope you recover soon. Thanks for writing.

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