Culture

Pray without Ceasing? Start with 15 Minutes.

(Portrait of Gary Jansen via Facebook)

The National Prayer Breakfast happened in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, and many speakers discussed prayer. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan quoted St. Paul about praying unceasingly. Well, how on earth can you do that? Gary Jansen’s new book suggests starting with 15 minutes. In The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life, the longtime editor of books on religion (and author of some others himself) says that his life changed when he really started to commit himself to prayer. He points out that with 1,440 minutes in a day, 14 minutes and 24 seconds is 1 percent of the day. Fifteen minutes could lead you “on a path to experiencing God more boldly, deeply, and intimately.” He talks about the pitch. – KJL

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What if I don’t have 15 minutes?

Gary Jansen: One percent of a day is roughly 15 minutes. Once I looked at the math and imagined looking at a scale where 1 percent was on one side and 99 percent was on the other, I thought, Oh, wow. I have to stop making excuses. I’m being kind of selfish. But I understand the struggles that come with prayer. It’s sometimes hard for me to sit still, so I started to find ways to pray throughout the day. I would pray while walking to work. You can pray when you’re washing dishes or when you’re taking a shower. You can thank God for running water. You can pray at red lights or pray the rosary on your fingers while eating lunch. There are two things I don’t believe in (and I’m open to a lot of things): leprechauns and someone saying they don’t have time to pray. There is always time to pray. Sometimes you just have to get creative.

Lopez: Is praying constantly even possible? It sure sounds like more than 1 percent of your day.

Jansen: One percent of your day is just a start. The goal is to pray constantly. I think we can move toward that attainment by making small changes in our life every day. One of the things this book talks about, and what I’ve been talking about for years, is how making small changes in the way we do things — and being consistent in those actions — can radically change our lives. For example, maybe prayer is tough for you. Start off by praying a minute a day. Do that for a week and then increase it by one minute every day for 30 days. At the end of that month you’re giving 2 percent of your life to God in prayer. If you can pray 15 minutes a day, at the end of the year you will have spent over 5,000 minutes in prayer. That’s nearly four days of your life you’ve given to God! To quote Ina Garten, how cool is that? I love Practicing the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. He basically offers up everything he does to God as a prayer, so he’s in a perpetual state of connection with the Almighty. Can we do that in the 21st century? I think we can. I think we need to do this.

Lopez: Is “intimacy with God” a peculiar concept today?

Jansen: Great question! Yes, I think so, but that’s only because the contemporary connotation for the word “intimacy” is something sexual. People get freaked out if you talk about intimacy between two people if they aren’t married. But intimacy is really just about having a close friendship with another person. And I think this modern connotation keeps us from experiencing the great depths of friendship with others. Not everything has to do with sex. The enemy will try to make you think that way. But sometimes, as Freud said, a cigar is just a cigar. So when I write about intimacy with God, I’m talking about having a deep friendship with God. We sometimes forget that the Trinity is three persons. Develop those friendships with those three very real persons. Share your pains and struggles and joys. Intimacy changes everything. Our perceptions. Our awareness. When you move in this direction, you draw closer to union with God, to what T. S. Eliot calls the “still point of the turning world.” It’s then that we “arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Lopez: Why and how would you repurpose the word “enthusiasm”?

Jansen: Ah, I love this word! It comes from the Greek word enthousiasmos, “to be inspired,” from the roots en- and theos. To be enthusiastic is to have the Holy Spirit coursing through your whole being in a unique way. Ever meet someone who was truly enthusiastic? I don’t mean annoying, but someone moved by the Spirit. Ever listen to Bishop Robert Barron speak? He’s enthusiastic! He’s got the fire, man! That just means he’s letting the Spirit do its thing through him. You know how different life is when you live enthusiastically from when you live in a lukewarm state. There is a big difference. God is very free with bestowing grace upon us. I believe we are called to embrace those graces with enthusiasm! Hence my overuse of the exclamation point at times!!

Lopez: You write:

We were called by God to greatness. As much as I love my Christian and Catholic faith, we believers, as a group, have spent too much time focusing on how vile human beings are. We need to shift that focus. I’m not saying to ignore sin, but when we focus on something, we become that thing. If I focus in my mind on the idea that I’m a loser, I will become a loser. If I focus on becoming a great student, I will become a great student.

Is this thinking consistent with what Pope Francis seems to be doing by devoting a year to mercy? Is it consistent with self-identifying, as he does, first and foremost, as a sinner?

Jansen: I think it’s completely consistent with what Pope Francis says about self-identifying as a sinner. What I say in that passage is a warning against making sin an idol; when you do that, you take your eyes off God, you take your focus off Jesus. What I’m speaking against is putting too much emphasis on sin and not enough on redemption. We should all acknowledge that we are sinners, as I write in the book, but instead of staying there and whipping ourselves mentally and psychologically to a point of inactivity or depression or extreme guilt, we need to shift our focus to Jesus. Jesus took those nails for us so we could be saved from sin, not to become overly preoccupied by it. Bruce Lee once described “a finger pointing to the moon.” He then chided a student for focusing on the finger. “Don’t focus on the finger or you’ll miss all that heavenly glory.” I love kung fu movies! Anyway, always be looking to Jesus. In the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t belabor the point. He doesn’t say to the woman whom he saves from being stoned, “You’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner.” He says, “Sin no more.” Done. Move on. So stop putting too much attention on the sin. Acknowledge it, meditate on it, but then focus your life on Jesus. If you over-focus on sin in your life, you’ll get more of it. If you sincerely over-focus on Jesus, well, you get more Jesus. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Lopez: What’s so important about generosity in the Christian life?

I think we’re all kind of like quarterbacks in life. God snaps the ball of life to us and it’s our job to pass it along so someone can score.

Jansen: We’re called to be like Jesus. He shares with people. He helps people. He gives thanks in the Gospels. I’m not sure we’re supposed to hold on to the things in life. We need to give them away. I don’t mean that all of us should be giving up our homes, but to help others if you have the means to create a home physically and spiritually. I think we’re all kind of like quarterbacks in life. God snaps the ball of life to us and it’s our job to pass it along so someone can score. Sometimes we stumble, sometimes we get sacked, and sometimes there’s an incomplete. But sometimes we help the team, the people of the living Christ, to reach the end zone. There’s a reason they call a long pass a Hail Mary! Just give it away, man!

Lopez: You write, “We are called by God to be bold, courageous human beings infused with the Holy Spirit. We are called to be heroic.” Everyone? Is 15 minutes a day going to work that miracle?

Jansen: Jesus was a hero. He laid down his life for us. There is no greater gift. We’re called to be like Jesus, so yes, I think everyone is called to be heroic. Heroism is about putting others first. You can be a heroic mom or dad, a heroic brother and sister, a heroic stranger. You can be heroic in your prayer life by putting God first and saying, “God, look, I talk all the time, but I just want to listen today. What can I do for you?” Put God first. Put Jesus first. Put the Holy Spirit first and you soon find out that you’re putting the people around you first as well. All these firsts! The great paradox. Prayer helps get us to a place where we can live from a heroic heart. Sounds daunting? Try it for a day and see what happens. David Bowie got it right: “We can be heroes, just for one day.” Then try it again. I think in time you’ll see that miracles can happen in your life every day.

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