“I’m praying for you.” Sometimes, isn’t it, said as a nice sentiment more than a reflection of substantive and even strenuous action? Prayer is action. And if we’re not doing it, we don’t have the relationship with God he’s calling us to.
So that’s, again, easy to say, and is the kind of thing you might appropriately see recommended when you come to a place like this. But how to do it?
With 15 minutes a day, is what Gary Jansen recommends in his new book, “The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life.”
Now, it’s important to note, that Jansen is no slouch. He’s been editor of books by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. He’s written a number of books on faith and prayer himself. But he’s also on the same journey every Christian is, and knows sometimes you just need a place to start with the Lord — or start again.
So how about one percent of your day? We talk a bit about the book and the approach — he offers several simple ways into those 15.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Is 15 minutes a day really enough?
Gary Jansen: It can be. I know some years ago I was very flippant in how I prayed. But then one day I asked myself, what if I just dedicated a quarter of an hour to God every day, would my life be changed. So I tried it and over time the results were extraordinary.
I felt calmer, more focused. I was less nervous and fearful. I was more aware of the people around me. I think I listened better. So, as I say in the book, 15 minutes is a good start, especially for people who have trouble praying. If you already pray for an extended period of time, can you add another 15 minutes of prayer in your life?
Lopez: You begin the book quoting St. Paul — “Pray constantly” — and then Judge Judy — “Don’t be an idiot.” Is it idiocy in your estimation to not pray constantly?
Jansen: Ha! My two favorite saints! When the time comes I’m going to nominate Judge Judy for canonization. The patron saint of common sense.
I think these two epigraphs at the beginning of the book are goals for us to attain. One to pray as much as we can and two, to stop making excuses. I don’t think Judge Judy thinks people are idiots for making mistakes.
Things happen. She thinks some people are idiots because they make excuses and try not to accept responsibility. I think those two themes weave themselves throughout the book. Up your praying game and don’t make excuses.
Lopez: You write that, “Prayer and meditation help us steal back what it means to be truly human.” Couldn’t it be the opposite — an escape?
Jansen: God created us to be magnificent creatures. But then there was the fall. Prayer for me is about trying to get back Eden, to that place before the fall. It’s about getting back to basics.
We do this by putting Jesus at the center of our lives and the center of our prayer lives. Could prayer be seen as an escape? I guess it could. There are probably times when people half-heartedly say they will pray for someone. If you see a homeless person on the street and you say to yourself, I’ll pray for him.
Well, that’s nice. But the guy needs a sandwich. Keep your prayers and go to Subway and get the guy a six-inch! I guess you could become lazy. But I think that’s only if the prayers are inauthentic and then they’re not really prayers.
I guess to the outside world prayer can look like an escape, but prayer is our quality time to be with our spouse, isn’t it? If someone is having marital problems and you ask that person, “So are you making time to talk to your significant other?” and that person says no.
Well, cue in Judge Judy. Don’t be an idiot! We are espoused to Jesus which means we need to be in communication with him. True prayer is never an escape. It’s communication, a movement toward the center of all things.
Lopez: You edited a collection of the pope’s morning homilies. How did that influence your thinking about prayer? About Pope Francis and what he might be up to?
Jansen: I like this pope a lot for many reasons, but one of the most important for me is that I see him as the blue-collar pope. He’s a smart guy, but he’s not addressing so-called thought-leaders when he speaks and writes.
He’s talking to the people in the pews, to the common people. I know the pope’s been criticized for not being an intellectual, but Jesus didn’t use words like “ontological argument” or “phenomenological approach.” He spoke of seeds and trees and shepherds. Jesus speaks to us in a common language.
Editing “Encountering Truth” was a pure delight for me because these were off-the-cuff homilies. I don’t believe they were prepared. They were sincere and used simple language. Sometimes there are even mistakes in them. They are very human.
His audience for these homilies were often working-class people. I grew up in a blue-collar home. I swept floors, worked as a brake mechanic, and was a furniture delivery guy before I started working in publishing. I still have blue-collar values though I work in white-collar America, so those homilies, those early morning prayers, are very dear to my working-class heart.
I think the pope’s message is to warn against over-thinking things. There is time for analysis, but more time should be devoted to serving others through acts of mercy.
Lopez: Are questions like “How is the Spirit flowing through you?” in any way practical?
Jansen: Of course! It’s an important question. It takes a little discerning, but how is the Spirit flowing through you? It’s about increasing awareness. Is the Spirit in the service you do? Is it in the thoughts you think? In the love you give to others?
The thing about human gifts versus gifts of the Holy Spirit is that with human gifts, well, you keep them. Someone gives me the gift of a book, well, I keep the book, hopefully read it, and hold on to it for sentimental reasons. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit, well, you get those and you should give them away to others through service, through love, through inspiration.
If someone gives me an apple and I cut it into two pieces. I eat one and a friend eats another, well, I only have eaten half an apple. I’m still hungry. But if the Holy Spirit gives me love and inspiration and I share that with others, I not only am in possession of the gift, but have shared it with others many times over.