Monday, December 7, 2015

How 15 Minutes of Prayer Can Change Your Life

Gary Jansen's book on Ignatian prayer hit the number one spot in its category of Hot New Releases on Amazon within the first week of publication. It was my privilege to interview this fellow Long Islander and senior Penguin Random House editor on behalf of Catholic news site Due to word count limitations, the interview on Aleteia needed to be shortened. Here is the original, extended edition.

In The 15-Minute Prayer Solution, author and senior Penguin Random House editor Gary Jansen shows how a commitment to fifteen minutes of daily prayer can awaken a relentless desire to place God at the center of everything. Just as you don’t exercise one day a week and expect to see results, the same is true of prayer. Forming a habit of daily prayer can transform our lives, but many of us need help in developing or deepening that habit. Enter Jansen’s book.

I recently interviewed Jansen about the distinctive Ignatian or Jesuit approach he takes to progressing in the interior life.

1. How can fifteen minutes of prayer a day make a difference in someone's life?

At the heart of the book is a simple premise: there are 1,440 minutes in a day. One percent of that time is 14 minutes and 24 seconds, so roughly 15 minutes. What would happen if you dedicated just one percent of your life every day to God? Would it change your life? I asked myself those questions a few years ago and the answers revolutionized my life. Though I’m Catholic and spend a lot of time in church, I’ve always had a difficult time focusing on prayer. But once I made a deliberate commitment to daily prayer, almost instantly I felt more peaceful, more patient, more aware. Within a short period of time I found that one percent turned into two percent and then three percent and then I would find myself praying throughout the day. I would wake up and the first thoughts I had were about God, thanking God for the morning. Then something else exciting happened. The more time I gave to God, the more I felt God giving me back time. I seemed to have more time to do the things I needed to do in my life, not less. So this book is about deliberately setting aside time, getting back to the basics of prayer and being consistent. You don’t exercise one day a week and expect to see results. It needs to be a daily commitment. The same holds true for prayer.

2. Why did you decide to focus on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola?

What I love most about Ignatius’s teaching was the simple idea of searching for God in all things. How can I find God in nature? In my family? In adversity? At work? On the streets? I loved the idea that God was very close and not far away, that I could enter a cathedral of everyday living and be in the presence of God at all times. I focused on the Exercises because I truly love the idea of finding God in all things…in another person, in a paper clip, in science or even in a tattoo.

3. Do you think there's an increased interest in the Jesuit approach to prayer because of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit ever elected to the papacy?

I do. There is a lot of Ignatius in Pope Francis and how he stresses discernment and looking for Jesus in the eyes of the poor and those who struggle. In addition, many people have already been introduced to Jesuit spirituality in the U.S. because of Father James Martin and his books like The Jesuit’s Guide to Almost Everything and My Life with the Saints. He’s a terrific writer, he’s funny, and he has a gift for taking difficult concepts and making them very easy to understand. And he has sold a lot of books. He’s probably the bestselling Catholic writer in the U.S. today.

4. How much does your book draw on your personal prayer life? 

The short answer is a lot. Even though I went to Catholic school for 12 years, I don’t think I ever learned to pray much more than the Our Father and Hail Mary. But some years ago I decided to try a number of different prayer techniques including lectio divina and praying with the imagination (a favorite of Ignatius). How I prayed and what I prayed made its way into the book because of the profound effect on my life. Moreover, I’ve given workshops on a number of these prayer types and received very positive feedback.

5. Have you ever attended an Ignatian retreat? 

Yes, I’ve been on maybe 20 Ignatian retreats over the last 15 years.  When the Jesuits sold St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset  to land developers in 2013, I lost my home away from home. Those retreats brought me closer to Ignatius, Mary and ultimately Jesus. As I like to say: to Jesus through Ignatius, to Jesus through Mary, and to Jesus through all of creation.

6. As a senior editor with Crown Publishing at Penguin Random House, you have edited books by some of the best Catholic authors in existence, including Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Bishop Robert Barron, George Weigel, Colleen Carroll Campbell, Scott Hahn, Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop Chaput, Christopher West, Mike Aquilina, and many others. How has this experience informed your writing style?

I feel blessed to have worked with so many great, thoughtful, and intelligent writers, and I learn something new with each book I edit. An editor is a guide, like a shepherd helping to move the book through the wilderness of publication, pointing out when a writer might go astray, being his or her advocate and coach. My style developed through a combination of influences from various great writers, from the simplicity of Pope Francis’s prose to the poetry of Colleen Carroll Campbell’s writing to the logic of Bishop Robert Barron’s arguments. Each book is an education, and I’m so thankful to have been a shepherd for all these authors.

7. Is your book mainly for beginners in prayer or can it also help those looking to deepen their spiritual life?

It’s for both. My desire was to write a modern book about a traditional topic. I had two readers in mind when I wrote it, the beginner and the reader who has been praying all of his or her life. One of my favorite books growing up was The Little Prince, so I tried to write like that -- simply but in a way where the prose has layers of meaning. My hope is that no matter where you are on the spiritual path you’ll find something to make you ponder. For me the book is about returning to the basics, about putting first things first. I offer this book as a prayer to help others on their spiritual journey.

Karee Santos is the founder of the Can We Cana? blog and also has written for Catholic Match Institute, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Together with her husband Manuel Santos, M.D., she co-authored The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime (Ave Maria Press, 2016). The Santoses designed and taught a pre-Cana marriage preparation course, and they write a monthly marriage advice column on called “Marriage Rx.” They also contribute to FAITH magazine’s “Your Marriage Matters” advice column. The couple live in Long Island, New York, with their six children.

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