As someone wisely said, regarding the potential benefits from observing the season of Lent, “It’s not the deprivation, it’s the discipline.” (Oh wait, I think it was me, so it can’t be all that wise. Still, it is true.) The benefits of Lent don’t come from what we give up but, rather, from what we learn—about ourselves, about the world around us, about God and ultimate reality—through some sort of focused, intentional experience.
On the church-year calendar, Lent (from the Old English word for springtime) is the 40-day period, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter. It represents the forty days Jesus spent alone in the wilderness, following his baptism, during which he was “tempted by the devil” as part of his preparation for the ministry that lay ahead of him. Since Jesus fasted from food for the duration, his followers have traditionally deprived themselves of some commodity or activity as a way of identifying with Jesus and preparing for the observance of Passion Week and the celebration of Easter.
I think self-deprivation can be good. One year I gave up chocolate for Lent, and it has suppressed my appetite for chocolate ever since. More important than the deprivation, however, was the discipline required to do it. For that reason, I generally observe Lent by undertaking some disciplined behavior that may or may not focus on giving something up.
This year, my Lenten discipline involves reading, writing, and blog posts. My plan is to publish two new blog posts per week, beginning tomorrow and continuing through Good Friday (April 14), for a total of fourteen posts. Except for this week, the posts should appear on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each post will feature a reference to some particular book I have recently read. Most will not be full-blown book reviews. They may, in fact, only mention the book as an example or illustration of a larger point I am making in the post.
The political climate of the past year has nearly done me in. I don’t know all of the biological and chemical and psychological dimensions of depression, but as one plagued by this foul presence from time to time, I know well the signs of its encroachment. I know, too, that to forestall its nefarious effects on my health and well-being, I need to turn my attention outward. That is why I am committing myself to reading and remarking on fourteen books over the course of the Lenten season.
E. M. Forster—the British author of books such as A Room With a View, Howard’s End, and A Passage to India—once wrote,
I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, those which have gone a little farther down the our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.
On the rare occasions when I have been involved in interviewing a candidate for a new job, I’ve always asked about his or her reading habits. What was the last book (or three books) you read? What books are on your bedside table right now? Questions like that.
You can tell a lot about a person that way. As Mark Twain said, “A person who does not read has no advantage over a person who cannot read.”
I am no fan of the new U.S. president, and I have little hope or expectation that he will succeed in that role. I base that prognosis, in no small measure, on the fact that, so we have been told, he does not read.
I read a lot of books, but I buy books even faster than I can read them. Both my bookshelves and my Kindle are overflowing with many titles either as yet unread or abandoned half-way through when something more timely or more urgent distracted me. As a Lenten discipline this year, I have decided to choose fourteen titles from my “new books” shelf, read or finish reading them (I actually started preparing for this a few weeks ago), and share with you how each title has helped to move me “a little farther down the path” that I’ve chosen to pursue for the remainder of my life. I hope you will find this exercise at least somewhat enlightening and enjoyable.
And now, if you simply cannot wait to learn what books I intend to reference in the Lenten blog posts, here is the list and the dates I plan to mention the books on the blog. Thanks for joining me on this journey. Peace.
- 3/2 (Thursday) – Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance
- 3/4 (Saturday) – The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren
- 3/7 (Tuesday) – Healing Spiritual Wounds, Carol Howard Merritt
- 3/10 (Friday) – Convictions, Marcus Borg
- 3/14 (T) – The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper
- 3/17 (F) – Between the World and Me, TaNehisi Coates
- 3/21 (T) – The Road to Character, David Brooks
- 3/24 (F) – The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
- 3/28 (T) – An Indigenous People’s History of the U.S., Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- 3/31 (F) – Broken Words, Jonathan Dudley
- 4/4 (T) – Grounded, Diana Butler Bass
- 4/7 (F) – Jesus: A Pilgrimage, Fr. James Martin S.J.
- 4/11 (T) – The Road to Someplace Beautiful, Eric Kouns
- 4/14 (Good Friday) – The Day the Revolution Began, N.T. Wright