A “Best Spiritual Book of the Year.”
Spirituality & Practice

Fully Awake and Truly Alive: Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul

With stories from her personal life and her experience as a spiritual director, Rev. Jane Vennard illustrates the joys and frustrations of spiritual practice, with insights from various religious traditions and exercises and meditations for your journey.

Rev. Jane E. Vennard
Foreword by Rami Shapiro

6 x 9, 208 pp | 978-1-59473-473-1

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Fulfill the reality that the glory of God is the human fully alive.

“Reverend Vennard is fearlessly awake to the wild dance of life. Rather than sleeping through life, she awakens to it. Rather than escaping from reality, she embraces it. Rather than distracting herself with a life to come, she dares to live the life that is. And she wants you to do all this as well. Read this book. Live this book. Wake up.”

—from the Foreword

In a culture enthralled with technology, striving and speed, people of many faith traditions and no faith tradition long to slow down, pay attention and wake up to the present moment. They want help in realizing their hope that they can become more truly alive.

This engaging and highly readable book offers you guidance for the journey. Sharing stories from her personal life as a spiritual seeker and from her professional career as a retreat leader, spiritual director and teacher, Reverend Jane Vennard illustrates the joys and frustrations of spiritual practice, offers insights from various religious traditions, and provides step-by-step exercises and meditations to practice:

  • Caring for the body
  • Rest
  • Silence Solitude
  • Letting go
  • Community
  • Hospitality
  • Service
  • Living gratefully

“Offers bountiful gifts and delightful surprises.... I loved it—and will recommend it widely, because this is a book for everyone.”

Brian D. McLaren, author/speaker/activist (brianmclaren.net); author, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words

“Rich with transformational potential.... Actively engaging with this book’s contents could alter positively the quality of your life.”

Thomas Ryan, CSP, director, Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations; author, Soul Fire: Accessing Your Creativity and The Sacred Art of Fasting

“Jane Vennard scores a bull’s eye with this masterful and down-to-earth resource on spiritual practices that bring zest to everyday life. A rich blend of action and insight.”

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, co-directors, SpiritualityandPractice.com

“With remarkable clarity of language and depth of insight, Jane Vennard invites us and startles us into being alive and awake.... A fine book for spiritual directors to know and to recommend.”

Mary C. Earle, Episcopal priest; author, Celtic Christian Spirituality: Essential Texts Annotated and Explained and Marvelously Made: Gratefulness and the Body

“Refreshing, broad-ranging exercises for body and soul.... A treasure trove of stories, practices and resources, this book is a gift to people both within and outside of traditional faith communities.”

Marjorie J. Thompson, author, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life

“Elegant guidance, generous invitations to practice and potent questions. How useful for the newly awakened to soul and the spiritual director who wants to stay awake to body, mind, heart and spirit! [This book] will be dancing off my shelf into the ready hands of those I serve and love.”

Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founder of InterPlay; author, Dance—The Sacred Art: The Joy of Movement as a Spiritual Practice

“I’d fallen asleep and didn’t know it, and this book called to me in the nick of time. With quiet wisdom, moving stories and inviting practices, Vennard awakens us to new life.”

Margaret D. McGee, author, Sacred Attention: A Spiritual Practice for Finding God in the Moment

“Ilumines a broad spectrum of spiritual practices, making them available and accessible to all who seek to enrich their lives. [Invites us] on a journey inward toward the home that awaits us within and on a journey outward in meaningful connection to those around us.”

Victor Kazanjian, dean of Intercultural Education & Religious and Spiritual Life, Wellesley College

“We wake up through Jane Vennard’s words to recognize the innate spiritual nature of living immediately and directly into our experience of our bodies, into silence and solitude, into community, hospitality and service.... Our response is gratitude for Jane Vennard’s masterful teaching.”

Dwight H. Judy, PhD, professor emeritus of spiritual formation, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary; author, A Quiet Pentecost: Inviting the Spirit into Congregational Life

Praise for Fully Awake and Truly Alive and Rev. Jane Vennard’s Work

“A wise, helpful and nourishing book, filled with personal stories and practical guidance.”

Marcus J. Borg, author, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

“Jane Vennard presents a spiritual path for practical feet, a guide for finding the seeds of prayer, reflection and nourishment in a delightfully spacious way. [This is] is a blessing for all of us who, as our lives go faster, yearn for divine healing and companionship in the still, small voices of the soul.”

Wayne Muller, author, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest

“Jane Vennard has given us guidance that is both simple and profound, practical yet very mature, personal yet social. Her wisdom about prayer is what we need.”

Richard Rohr, O.F.M Center for Action and Contemplation

“One of the most extraordinarily helpful books I have ever read on the relationship of our deep bodily-emotional selves to our spiritual unfolding. Combines practicality with personal sharing, wit, poignancy and deep spiritual insightful wisdom.”

Flora Wuellner, author, Prayer and Our Bodies

“Vennard’s concise introductions to spiritual practices and forms of prayer will enrich the prayer lives of both individuals and groups. This book will help readers become open and available to the grace and generosity of the Holy Spirit.”

Joseph D. Driskell, Pacific School of Religion

“The work of a master teacher, and like all master teachers, Jane Vennard is clearly in love with her subject. She is in love with the honest, spirit-stretching questions people have about prayer. She is in love with the stunning multitude of ways people can engage in spiritual practice. Drawing deeply from her personal experienced, she leads her readers into the joy—and humility—of helping others discover the life-filling richness of prayer.”

Steve Doughty, pastor; author, To Walk in Integrity

“On a personal level, I was unexpectedly rewarded to have my own spiritual life challenged and enriched by my encounter with Jane Vennard’s mind, heart and spirit in this volume.”

Howard Clinebell, PhD, author, Anchoring Your Well-Being

Foreword by Rami Shapiro xiii
Introduction xv
Expanding Our Understanding of Prayer and Spiritual Practice xvi
Defining Terms xvi
Becoming Fully Alive xviii
Examining Our Practices xix
On Cushion, Off Cushion xx
A Variety of Practices xxi

1. The Practice of Caring for Your Body Finding New Images, Deep Wisdom, and Blessings 1
Body Image: Experiencing Your Body as a Gift 3
Befriending Your Body 5
Embodied Wisdom 7
Healing the Divide 10
How Are You Called to Practice? 11
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 13
Writing a Letter to Your Body 13
Body Blessing 14

2. The Practice of Rest Restoring Your Energy, Your Creativity, and Your Spirit 15
Cultural Perceptions of Resting 16
Restful Activities 19
Biblical Call to Rest 21
Four Steps of the Creative Process 23
Sabbath Rest 24
How Are You Called to Practice? 26
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 27
Grateful Breathing 27
Resting While You Walk 28

3. The Practice of Silence Finding Spaciousness, Stillness, and Inner Peace 29
Discovering Well-Being in Quiet Places 30
Listening to Ourselves and Beyond Ourselves 31
Honoring Effortless Silence 34
Practicing Silence in a Supportive Community 35
Exploring the Shadow Side of Silence 36
Be Still and Know That I Am God 39
How Are You Called to Practice? 41
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 43
A Variety of Meditation and Contemplative
Prayer Practices 43
Breath Counting 43
Centering Prayer 44
True Meditation 45

4. The Practice of Solitude Making Friends with Yourself 47
Facing the Dragon of Loneliness 50
Early Experiences of Being Alone: Avoided or Encouraged? 52
The Journey Is the Destination: Walking Nowhere Alone 55
The Capacity to Be Alone: Self-Discovery, Creativity, and Intimacy 57
Silence and Solitude Together: A Furnace of Transformation 60
How Are You Called to Practice? 62
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 63
Exploring Your Experiences of Loneliness 63
Walking Meditation: Slowly Going Nowhere 64

5. The Practice of Letting Go Releasing Your Attachments, Your Past, and Your Future 67
Letting Go of Material Things 68
Fasting: Making Space for the Sacred 70
Forgiveness: Letting Go of Hurts and Leaving the Past Behind 72
Nonattachment: Letting Go of the Outcome 75
Accepting the Life That Awaits Us 78
How Are You Called to Practice? 81
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 82
The Courage to Forgive 82
Dancing Nonattachment 83

6. The Practice of Community Discovering Support, Encouragement, and Interdependence 85
The Rhythm of Contemplative, Communal, and Missional Spiritual Practices 87
Singing Together We Become the Music 89
Dancing, Moving, and Playing Together 91
Making Music Together:
Surrendering to the Whole 93
Spiritual Direction 96
How Are You Called to Practice? 98
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 100
My Communal Spiritual Practice: Examining
Its History and Discovering Its Future 100
Playful Body Sculpting and Creative Naming 101

7. The Practice of Hospitality Inviting, Welcoming, and Nurturing the Stranger 103
The Three Movements of Hospitality 104
Hospitality: A Two-Way Street 107
Practicing Communal Hospitality:
Blessings and Challenges 109
Welcoming the Stranger Within 112
Cultivating the Hospitable Heart 114
How Are You Called to Practice? 115
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 116
Welcoming the Stranger Within 116
The Welcoming Prayer 118

8. The Practice of Service Cultivating Generosity, Kindness, and Joy 121
Hidden Service: The Power of Practices That No One Notices 125
The Practice of Discernment: Deciding Who, Where, and How to Serve 131
Bearing Witness: No Need to Fix Anything 134
Many Hands Make Light Work: Practicing Service in Community 135
Responding to the Needs of Mother Earth 138
How Are You Called to Practice? 138
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 140
Letting the Mud Settle and Becoming Still 140
Listening with an Open Heart—Including Silence in the Conversation 142

9. The Fruits of Practice Living Gratefully, Humbly, and Compassionately 145
The Experience of Living Gratefully 149
Surprise Is the Wisdom of a Grateful Heart 151
Humility—the Forgotten Virtue 152
The Gracious Gift of Humility 154
Cultivating Humble Hearts 155
Discovering the Depth of Your Compassion 157
The Courage to See, the Courage to Feel,
and the Courage to Act 159
How Are You Called to Practice? 162
Guidelines for More Extended Practice 163
Keeping a Gratitude Journal 163
Discovering Your Image of Humility 164
Knowledge of the Stranger Deepens Compassion 165

Acknowledgments 167
Notes 169
Suggestions for Further Reading 175
Index of Practices 179



What was the inspiration for this book?
Over the last few years I have been teaching about spiritual practices in a variety of ecumenical settings. I find that people are intrigued with the idea that so many things we do in daily life can be experienced as spiritual practice. After classes and presentations, people would often ask me, “Are you writing about this?”

I have already written a number of books on prayer, and when I finished the last one I believed that was it. I thought I had said all I could about prayer. But when I changed my language to spiritual practice I realized I had a whole new audience�people whose image of God had changed, so their old ideas about prayer no longer felt right; people who did not believe in God, so prayer made no sense; and those who are “spiritual but not religious,” who thought prayer belonged to religion.

I have discovered that no matter what the belief or non-belief, there is a longing among many for a way to connect and to become part of “something more,” whatever they name it. They want to awaken to the possibility of living authentic and purposeful lives. In other words, they want to become fully awake and truly alive.

As a Christian, how did you become so inclusive of other faith traditions?
I was brought up in the Christian tradition. The church my family attended was very intellectual and focused on mission. I loved church activities and the community; however, I did not receive a spiritual foundation.

I drifted away from the church in my twenties, and felt no loss until a difficult divorce in my early thirties. I recognized my need for community and for connecting to something beyond myself. But I didn’t want to go back to church. I thought it would not offer me what I needed. So I began to explore other paths to renewal.

I turned to nature, hiking and walking in a variety of places. I studied depth psychology and found meaning and guidance in my dreams. I paid attention to the needs of my body and began dancing, drumming, and doing tai chi and yoga. I practiced Buddhist meditation. I didn’t think of these activities as spiritual practice; they were simply things that quieted my soul.

When I realized I needed to explore my Christian heritage, I still didn’t want to go to church, so I went to seminary. I come from an academic family so it made sense to me to study something before I joined it.

In seminary I realized that the church had changed since my childhood and that the journey I had been on was a spiritual one. As I studied the Bible, church history, and Christian practices I came to see that at heart I was a Christian�not embracing all the beliefs, but rather recognizing that at the center of my journey was the desire to be a follower of Jesus. And to become that follower I did not have to give up my meditation practice, my earth- and body-based practices, or my understanding of and experience with transpersonal psychology.

So rather than beginning with my Christian faith and opening to other traditions and practices, I brought many gifts from other faiths with me when I returned to the church.

What are your own spiritual practices?
Right now my basic practices are walking and reading. I try to walk every day, often alone or with my husband. I begin my mornings reading and sometimes journaling. I see my spiritual director almost every month and take at least one solitary silent retreat each year. I am a member of an InterPlay community that meets monthly where we dance and play together. When I am in Denver I attend worship at my local church. Recently I have been coloring mandalas and find that the body involvement helps to keep me mindful. I also experience my ministry of spiritual direction to be a spiritual practice. When I sit with another person, and together we listen and watch for the movement of the spirit, I am attuned to the Holy.

">Chapter 3

  • When have you experienced the spaciousness that comes from inner quiet? What have you been learning?
  • Have you experienced the shadow side of silence? Have you been silenced by another? Has silence ever been used as a weapon against you?

Chapter 4

  • What were some of your childhood experiences of being alone?
  • What situations cause you to feel lonely? Have you experienced the difference between comfortable solitude and loneliness?

Chapter 5

  • Where do you fall on the line between “the delight in things” and “the delight in being loosed from things?”
  • When have you had the experience of non-attachment? of letting go and being engaged at the same time?

Chapter 6

  • What is your rhythm of contemplative, communal, and missional spiritual practices?
  • What communal activities are you involved in that nurture your soul and renew your spirit?

Chapter 7

  • What has been your experience of offering hospitality to another? What was a blessing? What was difficult? What did you learn?
  • Is there in inner stranger knocking on the door of your heart? What inner stranger might need to be welcomed into your own life?

Chapter 8

  • How do you practice service? In small ways or in large projects?
  • Do you ever feel that you are not doing enough to ease the hurts of the world? How do you deal with these feelings?

Chapter 9

  • How do you express your gratitude to others and to God?
  • Who in your life is a model of humility?
  • When have you been compassionate with yourself? How has it affected your compassion toward others?