One of my favorite things to do on vacation, particularly on a beach vacation, is to read. Usually, I devote my uninterrupted book time to things I would not read at home (usually because I don’t have time), but on this vacation, I didn’t start the mystery novels until the last day…somehow I was inspired by the call during our Ash Wednesday service to embrace the act of study as a spiritual discipline and so I devoted my first precious reading hours of vacation to finishing up some long-in-process readables.
Only after 4 days, when my brain and spirit were overstuffed like a big Thanksgiving turkey did I give in and pick up a new novel: Jacqueline Winspear’s An Incomplete Revenge, another in her Maisie Dobb’s series. I really love a psychological, historical mystery with an interesting female lead and Maisie certainly fits that bill. Maisie combines spiritual direction and sleuthing in one very interesting package. But I digress. Maisie probably doesn’t count as proper Lenten study material.
But there were better candidates before her on this trip. I began by wrapping up the last few chapters of This Odd and Wondrous Calling by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaven, a book that should be read by anyone considering seminary, a life in the church, or frankly, by anyone who goes to church. Then I moved on to the book used to create our Ash Wednesday service: Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.
I am one of those people who reads a few books at a time. I’ll read a book at different times and in different situations during the day…for example there are books that I will only read when I am relaxed and open and there are books that I am willing to tackle while walking on the elliptical trainer. Right now, for my exercise reading, I alternate between Diana Butler Bass’ The Practicing Congregation (2004), as I continue my chronological read of her writings, and John W. Wimberly’s The Business of the Church (2010), a totally different kind of a book but an important one for anyone called up to manage within a church structure…in a world in which management and leadership are not synonyms, but both are required (a whole other topic of discussion, for another time).
This is all a rather rambling path to get to my true subject: my choices of devotional literature for the Lenten season. I say “choices”, because I have a different book for each of my “God pauses” during the day…my own individual, Baptist way of praying the hours, I guess.
For my morning quiet time, I have chose Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (2003). I liked the first volume in this series, because it used a wide variety of inspirational materials for the readings (poetry, fiction, sermon, and more), and I was deeply inspired by some of the readings…but I have to admit that I’m finding Bread and Wine a little tough to dig into…perhaps because the readings start with the most difficult topic for many of us, namely our relationship to the Crucifixion and our beliefs about atonement. A little challenging first thing in the morning, but it is forcing my thought and prayer in directions I might not have gone otherwise.
Mid-day, I like something a little more crunchy and scholarly, so this year I am knee-deep into Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem. For the last 3 or 4 Lenten seasons, I have pulled this book off the shelf and placed it in my reading stack, and never gotten past the first few pages. But this year, because we will be singing a very famous Passion text (Der Tod Jesu, or the Death of Jesus) on Good Friday, I am focusing my study on the Passion story. Borg and Crossan provide a very detailed study of the Passion text in the Gospel of Mark, and so far, while I wouldn’t say that it is a riveting read, taken in small bits it truly expands my perspective on the Gospel text. I’m up to Tuesday in the account of that last week…if I can finish the book in time I plan to move on to William H. Willimon’s Thank God It’s Friday, another book that has been languishing on my shelf.
And for my final read of the day, well, I have saved my favorite until last…this one involves music, well, a little. I am currently ending my day with readings from The Song Forever New: Lent and Easter with Charles Wesley by Paul Wesley Chilcote. For each day, there is a Biblical text, followed by one of Charles Wesley’s hymn texts (complete with notations about a suitable hymn tune recommendation so that you may actually sing it), followed by a small sermon text and prayer. Charles was the brother of John Wesley, and co-participator in the development of Methodism within the Anglican Church of the 17th century in England…Charles Wesley, writer of over 8,000 hymn texts..of which only a few are universally well known (for example, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” come to mind). For those of you who are not church music geeks like I am, you may not know that hymns and hymn books in the 17th century were not as we know them today. In Wesley’s day, the text was the thing…based on the meter the writer intended he (or she, yes, there are some famous female hymn writers) they might recommend a well known tune for singing. Or, they might just note the meter so that the congregation could choose their own tune. There are churches that still worship this way: for example, I have had the pleasure of meeting Adam Tice, a local Mennonite pastor and hymn writer…when working with Adam, you might only have a hymn text in front of you and be called upon to work with a tune you already know as you build harmonies and put together a worship hymn. He is a modern version of the way in which Charles Wesley worked (and a very talented one, I might add). What I am trying to say is this: there is much to guide one’s devotion in a hymn text, whether you sing it or read it as poetry. And I am finding it quite interesting and inspiring to work through some of these lesser known texts of Charles Wesley.
So, that is my book report for now. I hope that you, like I, have taken up a Lenten discipline, whether it be prayer or exercise or a change in your eating habits. Working a discipline any time of year helps focus us on what is important in life.
Now if I could just learn to read one book at a time…