Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lenten Books

One of the spiritual exercises I have practiced over the years since I was married, has been the annual reading of a devotional classic during the season of Lent. More recently I have taken to reading the Archbishop of Canterbury's yearly Lenten selection, usually commissioned years in advance. There have been many wonderful books which have graced my devotional reading in this way. But the most memorable experience of this practice was my first conscious decision to undertake this exercise. Having never read C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" before, I read them in sequence, one a Sunday afternoon throughout the Sundays of Lent, ending on Good Friday with The Last Battle. It was a wonderful experience! After that, I found other books which offered much good food for thought throughout my Lenten journeys, year by year. Over the next weeks, I will describe some of the books I've enjoyed most and why. They are not necessarily great books nor the one's which exhibit the best scholarship. But they are the ones which met me at a particular time and place, addressing me in a timely or profound way. And that is why each year I continue to look forward to the next one and then read it during Lent.

I will start with the small volume entitled At the Cross: Meditations on People Who Were There written by Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart. Illustrated by the woodcuts of Helen Firth, this little volume offers some wonderful meditations about those who receive mention alongside Jesus' journey to the cross. Here is a brief excerpt from the chapter on Peter:

"The cross shatters our illusions. It shatters our illusions about ourselves. It shatters our illusions about Jesus. It shatters our illusions about the world. Jesus, we discover, is not there to fulfill our aspirations, however fine they may be. Jesus does not conform to the world's aspirations, however attractive they may seem. Jesus does not confirm our self-made images of ourselves, the way we like to think of ourselves, the way we would like others to think of us. There is no smooth path to God which we can ascend with all our expectations of life confirmed and fulfilled. There is only the way of the cross, where the condemned and crucified Jesus contradicts our expectations, forces us to see ourselves as we really are, not as we would like to be seen, and reveals the world as a strange new landscape we had not seen before, a paradoxical game in which only losers can succeed."

 Peter, the centurion at the cross, Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalen and others are featured, challenging us to a deepening of faith and a greater understanding of Jesus' journey to the cross. Prayers and contemporary reflections close each chapter. Published by IVPress in 1999, it still repays reading and rereading.

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