I’ve always seen Lent as a time of preparation for the upcoming Christian year. I hope you will forgive the baseball analogy, but I liken it to spring training. We get back to the basics and reacquaint ourselves with those practices that we may have gotten a bit rusty at doing. We also open ourselves to new practices and techniques that will improve our “game.” Life may send some curve balls and fly balls deep to center field, but if we are centered in the disciplines of our Faith, mindful always of God’s loving Presence with us, we will be in a better position to handle what comes our way.
So Lent asks of us a bit more than giving up raspberry truffle ice cream and those gooey sweet desserts that we love so much. That wise and insightful saint, Benedict of Nursia, instructed the monks under his care not so much to give up things for Lent, but rather add things to their lives that may be missing but would be so very necessary to strengthen them and prepare them for all the twists and turns that would lie ahead of them on the road of life.
Benedict instructed his monks to increase the time they spent reading during Lent. They were assigned a book to read from cover to cover. They were to “inwardly digest” the book through the practice of Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina, sacred reading if you will, requires that the text be savored, mulled over, wrestled with and prayed about. It is the exact opposite of speed reading.
For those of you not already engaged in spiritual reading this Lent, let me suggest a short list of books that I love and that have helped me grow inwardly.
- The Jesus Prayer, A Way to Contemplation by Simon Barrington Ward (Pauline Books, 2011). Ward is a retired Bishop of the Church of England and former Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II. The book focuses on the history, the practice and the spiritual benefits of this ancient breath prayer that has enhanced the spiritual lives of so many in the Christian East and West.
- Flunking Sainthood, A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor, by Jana Riess (Paraclete Press, 2011). Author of nine books, with a PhD from Columbia, Jana has written a delightful and humorous book about her attempt to practice several time-honored Christian disciplines with very mixed results. The great lesson Jana shares with us is that practice and perfection are two very different things. Sometimes falling short can be a valuable lesson in humility and Grace.
- Accidental Saints, Finding God in All the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber (Convergent Books, 2015). Lutheran Pastor and blogger, Nadia Bolz-Weber narrates her adventures encountering “all the wrong people” in her ministry yet finding the love and light of Christ glowing brightly from the hearts of folks most of us would be more than uncomfortable being around. A reminder that Jesus called his first disciples from a motley crew of social misfits too.
- Julian of Norwich, A Contemplative Biography, by Amy Frykholm (Paraclete Press, 2010). Fulbright Scholar, Amy Frykholm takes us on a journey to the 14th Century where we encounter the inspiring mystic and Anchoress, Julian of Norwich, a true theologian who was ahead of her time and convinced of the enduring power of God’s Love in the midst of a dark age.
- Here if You Need Me, Kate Braestrup (Little, Brown and Company, 2007). Unitarian Chaplain to the Maine Warden Service, Reverend Braestrup shares a very down to earth and practical approach to pastoral care offering prayer and presence, not solutions to people in the midst of personal tragedy. A primer on the spiritual practice of listening presence.
There you have it. My short list of some of my favorite books that have touched me and helped me grow spiritually. My sincere prayer is that the remainder of Lent offers you meaningful ways to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ our Lord.
Grace and Peace,