In Canada it used to be that Lent was a time of spiritual flurry in Anglican parishes. Preachers traveled to urban areas and drew hundreds of people to noon-time services, Lenten study groups were almost universal, and parish missions provided opportunities for people to deepen their faith. The times were more communal. Today, life is a perpetual flurry for most people. In an age of enhanced individualism, people work out what Lent will mean for them. In this context, books for Lenten reading can play an important role.
One of the aims of a Lenten discipline is to enable us to grow in intimacy with God. In Getting Involved with God Ellen F. Davis has this objective. Subtitled "Rediscovering the Old Testament" she presents the Old Testament as "a source of Good News and guidance for our life with God." She believes in an alternative to the usual Christian conservative (proof texts and moral textbook) and liberal (basically boring and morally deficient) approaches to these scriptures. She wants us to know "that God is involved with us, deeply and irrevocably so."
With beautiful writing and with clarity of thought, Ms. Davis guides the reader through the psalms as a way of prayer enabling an honesty leading to intimacy with God. She then selects stories providing insight into the deeper meanings and cost of love followed by commentary on passages, which speak to living life well, and developing spiritual habits for a lifetime.
Christians have always found it helpful to reflect on the writings of other Christians who, through the ages, have recorded their experiences. In a new anthology, Ordinary Graces, Lorraine Kisly has woven a rich tapestry which covers the centuries and the variety of experiences through which people have come to grow in their life with God. As well as the "old masters" of the development of the interior life, there are also the writings of those you may never have heard of which may touch you deeply.
"Time is something you make!" So one of my mentors used to instruct me when I complained about being too busy. I discovered he was right. For that reason I find Christopher C. Moore’s Solitude – A Neglected Path To God a timely gift for all who feel overcome by the pace of contemporary life. He recognizes that while people desire times to be alone, there is also a great fear of loneliness. He clearly recognizes the dangers of solitude and suggests how to overcome them. He then relates ways in which periods of solitude may become incorporated into life itself, how in the stillness, in the silence, "the felt presence of God, will nourish my soul in the days and weeks ahead."
There are carefully crafted questions at the end of each chapter which are helpful to an individual’s self-understanding.
Too often talk of love is glib. We forget that its redemptive power is meant especially for those whose experience of life is hell itself and for whom talk of love appears shallow and unreal. Across all the boundaries of modern life there are those who feel trapped. In Escape Routes, Johann Christoph Arnold, an experienced pastor, counselor and leader in the Bruderhof community has collected the stories of people caught in life’s hells. He offers no simple solutions but he does offer hope however grave the circumstances. It is hope grounded in a true and realistic love of neighbour for as he states, "the New Testament makes it plain that our first and only task on earth is to love God and our neighbours as ourselves. Isn’t that more than sufficient work for a lifetime?"
Henri Nouwen touched the lives of thousands through his ministry and writings. Now in Befriending Life, Encounters with Henri Nouwen edited by Beth Porter we have a record of many who knew him personally and we learn even more about his open heart and gentle touch. Though an academic he was always a spiritual guide who opened up others to the possibilities of God’s love. His final years were spent as a chaplain at the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto. In the words of his friend Jean Vanier: "The fruits of Henri’s life were numerous, good, and beautiful: he brought people to God, to the light, and to renewed hope."
All good books for Lenten encounters with God.