Experiencing God in Daily Life

I just finished reading Exercising Your Soul: Fifteen Minutes a Day to a Spiritual Life, written by Gary Jansen, which was sent to me by the Hachette Book Group.

Jansen starts from the simple premise that a little bit of regular daily prayer can go a long way. Writing for an audience “still catching up to the idea that prayer and meditation should be – and need to be – a daily activity,” he encourages people to commit just fifteen minutes a day to prayer. By doing so, he believes they can “move toward a state of living in perpetual prayer.

The book contains a number of prayer exercises, with a heavy leaning toward prayers that make use of the breath, centering prayer and Lectio Divina. Although Jansen’s claim is that fifteen minutes or less a day is sufficient for these practices, one could (and hopefully will) spend more time on each. While many of these will be familiar to many readers, I have no doubt there will be something new for everyone…and quite a bit new for some people. My encouragement would be to try with an open mind those exercises that are new to you.

Interspersed through Jansen’s discussions of the prayers are some absolutely beautiful images that are themselves worth sitting with in prayer. I loved, for example, his likening of each of us to the ark of the covenant in that we are each carriers of the Word of God. I also thought helpful his analogy of the Holy Spirit to the water in a water pipe that is stopped by a faucet in the closed position..and the encouragement to open the faucet to allow the intense pressure of the Holy Spirit to flow through us. Similarly, he has a powerful discussion of the geometry of the Cross to convey that whenever we encounter God’s creation, we encounter Christ.

The book also contains some very important reminders. To give a couple of examples, first, we always need to remember that “we do not have control over how God will respond to us.” Too many people approach prayer with fixed expectations about what ought to happen and how God should respond to them. It is ever important to remember that God will respond in the way God deems appropriate…which may not be what we expect. Second, while our affective experience in prayer is important, we need to remember that the fact that we don’t have a particularly strong feeling arise during a prayer session does not necessarily mean nothing is happening. That we don’t’ feel the effect of prayer immediately does not mean it is not working. Third, we ought not be discouraged by the distance between us and those we admire. Jansen reminds us that when we look at the Martin Luther Kings and the saints we admire, we often forget that what we are looking at in such people is “the culmination of lives lived spiritually and not the small steps…it took to get there.”

I have some minor quibbles with Jansen. I, for example, disagree strongly with his characterization of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which he thinks to be “overly strenuous for the average person.” His criticism of the language of the text as dense seems to me to miss the mark, since it is not necessary to read the text to do the exercises. And while it is true that the traditional 30-day version of doing the Exercises is not possible for “a mom with very little time,” that is the reason Ignatius expected that people would modify the Exercises as appropriate and I know many a mom who did the Exercises in the form of the 19th Annotation (a retreat in daily living that lasts for approximately 9 months).

Despite minor quibbles, I think this book can be an enormous aid to very many people.