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

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

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by Jane E. Vennard

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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


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

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Invaluable [for] expanding our definition and understanding of spiritual practice."

The Phoenix Spirit

The Denver Post - Colleen O'Connor

Jane Vennard: Spiritual practices, such as prayer, bring renewal of soul

Jane Vennard knows that spiritual renewal doesn't come easy.

"Spring doesn't come without fall and winter," she said. "Loss must come before renewal, suffering before transformation, and dying before resurrection."

Vennard, an adjunct professor at Iliff School of Theology, delves into renewal in her new book, Fully Awake and Truly Alive, which explores how spiritual practices from different faith traditions can yield peace, gratitude, humility and compassion.

The path of those practices, however, winds through thickets of doubt, pain and fear.

"The Buddha would say, 'You can't be free of struggle until you go through it,' " said Vennard, a minister in the United Church of Christ. "But I think people don't want to do that."

Many are pushed into renewal by life circumstances: lost job, illness, forced retirement, addiction or depression.

"Your life falls apart," Vennard said. "For me, it was my divorce."

She was an elementary school teacher in her early '30s who'd drifted away from church in college, and didn't want to go back.

Instead, she began to explore the wide world of spirituality: Zen meditation, depth psychology, drumming, dancing and dream work.

That led to a yearning to explore Christianity, and then, in 1981, she enrolled at the Graduate Theological Union. She graduated from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

By 1987, as the quest for spirituality began heating up in mainstream America, she was teaching prayer at Iliff School of Theology. Over 25 years, her understanding of prayer has evolved—a change that mirrors the rise of the "nones," people who have abandoned organized religion to seek spirituality elsewhere.

She learned a lot from seminary students.

"They said they were interested in prayer, but weren't praying. Other students were questioning their image of God," she said. "Their images of God were changing, so the whole concept of prayer had to change."

In her new book, she describes spiritual practice and prayer as the same thing—anything that nurtures the soul and refreshes the spirit, from walking the dog to gardening, running or cooking.

"It's about the intention we set," she said. "If I say I'm taking the dog out with the intention of opening myself to the world, or being in communion with God, or to quiet my spirit and enrich my soul, then it becomes prayer."

She's met atheists and secular humanists who don't believe in God but have spiritual practices, and she knows Christians who are questioning their tradition, so she carefully crafted the language in her book to include "believers, non-believers, and those whose beliefs are in flux."

Like many, she also questions the traditional teachings. She focuses instead on the teachings of Jesus.

"So many beliefs of Christianity I don't believe," she said. "I don't believe in miracle stories. I don't believe in the physical resurrection. I don't believe in the virgin birth. People say, 'How can you be a Christian if you don't believe those things?' I think the core of being a Christian is being fully alive."

She got that idea on a trip to Australia, where she was co-leader of an ecumenical retreat that drew on the wisdom of Saint Irenaeus, a Catholic bishop who wrote in the second century: "The glory of God is the human person truly alive."

Her spiritual practices include silence, solitude, and a daily walk through her Congress Park neighborhood, greeting neighbors and marveling at the colors and shapes of nature. Over time, these practices have stripped her of illusions about herself and the world around her.

"We have to let go of the ways we had always thought the world worked," she writes. "Facing life exactly as it is does not always feel good. Recognizing that we have been living with false assumptions about who we are can be painful."

But after the loss comes the renewal. She's moved through these cycles many times.

"I do find that I am awakening," she said. "I am learning to live more often in the present moment. I am learning to find peace and stillness in the middle of a noisy, chaotic world."

Spirituality & Practice - Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Jane Vennard is ordained to a special ministry of teaching and spiritual direction in the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination. She is an astute scholar of Christianity who has also practiced Buddhism. For many years, she was a Senior Adjunct Professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, teaching numerous courses on prayer, spirituality, and discernment.

Vennard is also a spiritual director in private practice. She leads retreats across the country and teaches in a variety of ecumenical settings. She has a rare gift for seeing clearly the similarities and differences among traditional perspectives and then to adeptly lead people through an examination of a variety of spiritual perspectives.

Being fully awake and truly alive is one of the major challenges of these crazy/busy times. There are plenty of roadblocks to achieving that noble pursuit. Spiritual practices can center us and light the path to transformation. Vennard has chosen to focus on care of the body, rest, silence, solitude, letting go, practice in community, hospitality, service, and the fruits of practice—gratefulness, humility and compassion. These practices have been praised by those on many spiritual paths and in most of the world's religions. They also have the added value of being understandable and accessible to those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious.

Each chapter in the book ends with the question: "How are you called to practice?" and there is more guidance for those who want to go deeper into the practice. We were especially taken with Vennard's ability to help us see the relevance of these soulful activities to the enrichment of our daily lives. For instance, she writes about how the spiritual practice of hospitality can bless and challenge families and religious communities to reach out in ways that they never thought possible. Vennard hits high stride with her coverage of living gratefully, humbly, and compassionately. These beneficial qualities can be realized, as the Buddhists say, both on-the-cushion and off-the-cushion.

Jane Vennard scores a bull's eye with this masterful and down-to-earth resource on spiritual practices that bring zest to everyday life. Fully Awake and Truly Alive is a rich blend of action and insight that demands to be read and then tried out in our days and in our doings.

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Turner Publishing Company
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What People are saying about this

author, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life - Marjorie J. Thompson
"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."
dean of Intercultural Education & Religious and Spiritual Life, Wellesley College - Victor Kazanjian
"Illumines 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."
Episcopal priest; author, Celtic Christian Spirituality: Essential Texts Annotated and Explained and Marvelously Mad - Mary C. Earle
"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."
co-founder of InterPlay; author, Dance—The Sacred Art: The Joy of Movement as a Spiritual Practice - Cynthia Winton-Henry
"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."
CSP, director, Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations; author, Soul Fire: Accessing Y - Thomas Ryan
"Rich with transformational potential.... Actively engaging with this book's contents could alter positively the quality of your life."
author/speaker/activist (brianmclaren.net); author, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words - Brian D. McLaren
"Offers bountiful gifts and delightful surprises.... I loved it—and will recommend it widely, because this is a book for everyone."
co-directors, SpiritualityandPractice.com - Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
"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."
PhD, professor emeritus of spiritual formation, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary; author, A Quiet Pentecost: - Dwight H. Judy
"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."
author, Sacred Attention: A Spiritual Practice for Finding God in the Moment - Margaret D. McGee
"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."

Meet the Author

Rev. Jane E. Vennard, a popular teacher on prayer and spiritual practice, offers lectures and leads retreats in ecumenical settings in the United States, Canada and abroad. She is the author of several books, including Fully Awake and Truly Alive: Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul and Teaching—The Sacred Art: The Joy of Opening Minds & Hearts (both SkyLight Paths), and a long-time active member of Spiritual Directors International. She is ordained in the United Church of Christ to a ministry of teaching and spiritual direction.

Rev. Jane E. Vennard is available to speak on the following topics:

  • Fully Awake and Truly Alive: Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul
  • Spiritual Practice: A Way of Life
  • Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life
  • The Art of Teaching Spiritual Practice
  • Spiritual Practices in the Ministry of Spiritual Direction

Click here to contact the author.

Rami Shapiro, a renowned teacher of spirituality across faith traditions, is an award-winning storyteller, poet and essayist. He is author of The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice, Recovery—The Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice and The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature: Selections Annotated & Explained (all SkyLight Paths), among other books.

Rami Shapiro is available to speak on the following topics:

  • Writing—The Sacred Art: Beyond the Page to Spiritual Practice
  • Stop Playing God: 12 Steps as Spiritual Practice
  • Biblical Wisdom for Post-biblical Times: An Exploration of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job
  • The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Cultivating Compassion in Daily Life
  • Hasidic Wisdom: An Exploration of Hasidic Storytelling, Theology and Contemplative Practice
  • Saints and Sages: Biblical Prophets, Ancient Rabbis and the Building of a Just World

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Fully Awake and Truly Alive: Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had an opportunity to be in a class taught by Jane Vennard. Her book is wonderful just as she was. I love the way she weaves exercises and chances to reflect through out her chapters!! Add a lot of insight to being a Christian 24 hours a day and praying without ceasing.