A Good Book for Lent

Here are some comforting words from today’s Daily Prayer.

“Sustain us when our hearts are heavy and our wells have run dry.” Clearly written by someone battling with the aftermath of viral influenza!

Still in that state myself I wish to confess to being both intolerant and short tempered at the moment. In the circumstances it was probably not a good idea for my husband to suggest my broken arm was well enough to have my first drive of the year, and in our new car. I used to be forgiving of people who drive around Snowdonia without knowing how to reverse — not any more. Nor will I reverse uphill now, having burnt out two clutches that way. When I met a lady who refused to come up passed me our resulting ‘domestic’ sorely tried my marriage vows since it was nothing to do with my one-and-only-so-far. (Yes, I’m so old I promised to obey!)

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A little bit of witch hazel for a little bit of Spring cheer

That is a digression. Actually, I want to write about books I enjoy re-reading in Lent.

‘Why go to Church?’, subtitled ‘The Drama of the Eucharist’, by Timothy Radcliffe, was Archbishop Rowan William’s Lent book in 2009. I’d forgotten what he said though I remembered reading the book with both enjoyment and profit and it is well worth re-reading now. I’m again appreciating what a light touch he has, interspersing his words of wisdom with funny stories. He quotes, for example, G K Chesterton’s assertion that angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. Certainly Christians who take themselves too seriously can be fearfully pompous and self-righteous. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves in order to see clearly. I don’t think God is ever given enough credit for His wonderful sense of humour.

The book is divided into Scenes and Acts, building to a resounding climax like all good drama. It reminds me, over and over again, why I’m there, what I am supposed to do by being there, and how vital is my participation. It is much easier for the clergy to appreciate the shape and form and dynamic movement. For the pew sitter, struggling with constantly changing booklets and various pieces of paper, the service can become very fragmented and it is much harder to concentrate on the whole.

‘John as Storyteller’ by Mark W G Stibbe, not a Lent book, is heavier going than the Radcliffe book, which is why Lent is a good time to make the effort. Perhaps I read too many novels and watch too many plays but again I found considering John’s Gospel as a dramatic narrative immensely helpful, particularly Part II which concentrates on John 18 – 19.

‘The Mind of the Maker’ by Dorothy L Sayers is not a Lent book either, but if you begin it now you can finish it by Trinity Sunday, and that will be a bonus. In this book Sayers explains the doctrine of the Trinity by relating it to creating a work of fiction, which, she argues, is a threefold creation. (One wouldn’t normally think of Lord Peter Wimsey and the Trinity together!) First you have the vision, then you pour your soul into your story, finally you send it out to spread the word. That’s simplifying her thesis horribly but I had a clearer understanding of the Trinity after reading this book than I’d ever had before. (And a clearer understanding than I’ve had from many sermons on the subject!)

Finally, leaving the best till last, Esther de Waal’s Lent book of 1984. ‘Seeking God. The Way of St Benedict.’ I will just quote the blurb on the back.

‘In “Seeking God” Esther de Waal shows how his Rule, practical and totally relevant for today, can guide us towards a growth into wholeness, a balance in every aspect of our being —body, mind and spirit — through which we can become truly human and truly one with God.”

Relevant in 1984 and even more relevant more than thirty years later.

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