A Good Book Can Go A Long Way in Lent

My reading time has been dissolved into something akin to “other people’s normal” lately, and it’s killing me.

Even so, with Lent around the corner, I can’t help but look to my bookshelves for some inspiration. This year, maybe more than usual, I feel like I need some extra motivation.

Among the books I’m looking forward to this Lent is Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s newly released 40 Days, 40 Ways: A New Look at Lent (Servant Books). I first read it back on the cusp of fall, and I’ll be honest: I was dreading it.

As it turned out, though, it was just the book I needed at that moment. I found myself appreciating that I was reading it in the fall, because when Lent rolls around—as in, right now!—I knew I would have a chance at round 2. 

Though I’m not a big re-reader of books (in part because I’m struggling to read all the books I want to read the first time around!), I have to appreciate the treasury D’Ambrosio has crafted with this book. He’s tapped into his experience as a normal guy and his expertise as a theologian-type, wrapped it up into a book that’s both digestible and good reading, and then shared it with all of us.

There’s a lot of practical advice in this book and also a bit of a kick in the pants. I fail at Lent pretty much every year (and I guess that’s how I know I’m succeeding, to some extent), and this year, I plan to fail with this book in hand. And then I’ll get back up, dust myself off again, and try again.

Because this book makes me want to. It makes me want to try. And then try again. And then, because I know I’ll have to, try yet again.

In the front of 40 Days, the table of contents lists the 40 activities in great detail. There’s one for each day of Lent. As someone who’s easily overwhelmed, this could sound like a huge mistake. And maybe it is. 

But I’m not looking at this book as a chance to do these 40 activities. I’m looking at it as an opportunity to grow…and maybe, in the pile of 40 and the smaller pile of whatever I’m able to actually do, there will be room for the Holy Spirit for work in me, through me, for me.

There is no way, for example, that this will be the Lent that I plan a contemplative retreat (day 20). However, there are a number of other suggestions that, taken alone, could transform me. 

And isn’t that what Lent’s supposed to be?

Not that I can handle a lot of extra this Lent, but I can’t help but look longingly at a few others that I haven’t already sampled. Among them are these two:

Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from Saint Thomas Aquinas, by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius Press)

This caught my eye when I saw it in my mailbox, in part because I have found Peter Kreeft to be pretty normal and insightful in ways that resonate with me. But what made me determine that this was going to be Lenten reading was hearing him call it “good bathroom reading.”

Theology I can read in the the time I spend in the bathroom? I’m pretty sure they’re targeting working moms, whether they intended to or not!

It’s a hefty book (it will hold down the magazines nicely, thank you), but Kreeft’s passion in the introduction (and in that interview on Register Radio) are hard for me to ignore. Kreeft writes:

In a lifetime of browsing through Aquinas, my amazement has continually increased not only at his theoretical, philosophical brilliance and sanity but equally at his personal, practical wisdom, his “existential bite”. Yet this second dimension of St. Thomas has usually been eclipsed by the other. I wrote this book to help bring that sun out from its eclipse.

This isn’t a book I’ll finish during Lent (or probably this year), but it’s one I’m going to start, and ponder, and, I suspect, enjoy.

A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary, by Brian Doyle (Ave Maria Press)

This is the epitome of recognizing God in the everyday, near as I can tell. Brian Doyle has gathered prayers for the most mundane of things, things like suntan lotion and port-a-potties and at least 96 other things that made me chuckle as I flipped through the book.

There’s humor here, but in that humor, there’s a lot of truth. I have shelves of prayer books. None of them are like this (and probably with good reason…the world may only need one). There’s a lot of humility in compiling and writing what seem, on the surface, to be ridiculous prayers.

In these prayers, though, there’s a thread of gratitude that I salute and need to be reminded of repeatedly.

I don't think the laughter will hurt either. Even the preface, itself a prayer, has a taste of what's to come:

Suffice it to say that I pray that in the pages that follow I will be able to catch and speak something true and honest and genuine and blunt about seeing and celebrating and savoring the slather of Your gifts upon me and us; and will be able to sing, even creakily and croakingly, of the holiness everywhere evident and available; and will be able to remind readers that we are handed miracles beyond number, every blessed moment, if only we can train ourselves to open and see and hear and taste and feel and smell and absorb them, and so be blessed ever deeper by Your mercy and profligate generosity and wry subtle humor.

I’m looking forward to spending some time with this prayer book this Lent. I suspect I may even be inspired to pen a few of my own prayers in my journal.

Behold the Mystery: A Deeper Understanding of the Catholic Mass, by Mark Hart (Word Among Us Press)

Every couple of years, I need to study the Mass. I didn’t realize this until I saw this book on my shelf and thought “LENT READING” with an all-caps emphasis.

Hart’s a great teacher, and I expect that I’ll walk away from this, my dedicated Lenten read, with not only a deeper appreciation for the Mass, but also something else. I don’t know yet what the something else will be, but I have no doubt that it will rock my understanding.

From Hart's introduction:

The Mass offers us all a unique opportunity to see things as God sees them. We are invited into the throne room of heaven for an hour each Sunday to worship alongside the angels. We are being ushered into the upper room of Holy Thursday to recline at the Lord's table. We are on the mount of Calvary as our Lord offers himself to the Father on our behalf. Make no mistake: the Mass is not about God "reaching down" to earth as much as it is about us being swept up into heaven. Our Sunday worship is not merely about devotion; it's about reception.

Do you have plans for Lenten reading? I’d love to hear them!