Lenten books examine sin, salvation, spirituality

Published March 1, 2003

I am told that Lent and books go together for Anglicans. This is the season when they resolve to read a religious book for their soul’s health. Here are some suggestions for Lent 2003.

Writers, compilers and editors generally are not noted for their humility, but there are always exceptions. Such is the case with the unidentified editors of an exceptionally fine anthology, Bread and Wine, subtitled Readings for Lent and Easter. Attractively laid out for daily reading I find in these selections a tangible, real life quality with which one can readily identify whether the words were written a thousand or more years ago or yesterday afternoon.

Those who find the reflections of others a good ground for daily meditations will find much to stimulate their spiritual appetite. All the great themes are covered from Invitation and Temptation, through Passion and Crucifixion to Resurrection and New Life. The selections are drawn from across the Christian firmament and beyond. The authors’ names will be recognized immediately – Augustine, Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Oscar Wilde, Kathleen Norris, John Stott, Dylan Thomas, John Updike, Malcolm Muggeridge, to mention but a few – offering a rich context for spiritual growth.

This year the book the Canadian primate has recommended for reading and reflection is Christ Our Passover – Meditations on the Mystery of Salvation by Stephen Reynolds, professor of systematic theology at Trinity College, Toronto. Meditations from such a source may sound like heavy going but this is not the case. Mr. Reynolds believes strongly that theology is not, and should not be, “a very specialized and arcane field, rather like the upper reaches of quantum physics ? Theology is, or ought to be, the possession and practice of the whole church,” and therefore he concludes, “all Christians – including you, Christian reader – are theologians; it’s just that you have been doing theology without knowing it.”

From this foundation he offers meditations based on weekly readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (Lent – Easter) drawn from homilies and sermons delivered in four parishes he has served. His aim is to engage the imagination in such a way that new insights may bear the fruit of cultivating growth in God’s love revealed through Jesus Christ. He writes in an attractive and easy-to-read manner. His touches of humour are light and telling. He puts into focus the importance of the combination of Scripture and the church year for personal engagement in the mystery of salvation.

And then there is the question of sin. Scripture teaches “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” To face up to sin we need more than a checklist. That is why Ken Bazyn’s The Seven Perennial Sins And Their Offspring provides such a worthwhile examination for those who would understand themselves better. Drawing from literature as well as traditional sources he traces how the tributaries of the Seven Deadly Sins leach unnoticed into our lives and general culture.

Mr. Bazyn suggests a principle that all might take to heart: “Because of our inordinate capacity for self-deception, I adhere to what theologian Paul Tillich referred to as the ‘Protestant Principle,’ wherein we need to reform the reformers, who, though they started out in a good direction, then wandered off from the path themselves.” It was sin that placed Jesus on the cross and that is why we must take it seriously. Lent has always called people to confront sin, individually and socially, and to repent.

For those who want to use this Lent to grasp an entirely different lifestyle (and constantly we hear that people are seeking alternatives) Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy presents a refreshing take. “This is not a book about the ‘spirituality’ of gratitude in the trendiest sense of the word. Instead, consider this as an invitation to ponder gratitude as the most radical attitude to life.”

She addresses the problems of perpetual dissatisfaction with simple directness. She sees human captivity in our western culture sharing much with the biblical Babylonian captivity of the Jews and draws from that experience: “A time of captivity if it is recognized as such can also be a time of liberation.” This is a book about liberation and through astute analysis and personal experience she opens the gates. “The question of the meaning and purpose of life was one that was as important to the early Christians as it is to us here and now in America, the North and the West – in a time of endings and beginnings.”


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