In chapter 48 of his Rule for Monasteries, St. Benedict instructs monks to read a book during Lent.
During the days of Lent, they should be free in the morning to read until the third hour… each one is to receive a book from the library, and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent.
What’s good for monks is good for the rest of us too.
So in addition to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, I humbly encourage you to find a book to read as part of your daily spiritual practice during Lent. If you need a few ideas for inspiration, perhaps these will help.
- St. Benedict’s Toolbox, Revised Edition by Jane Tomaine. Subtitled “Nuts and Bolts of Every Benedictine Living,” this accessible introduction to the wisdom of the Rule shows how it is relevant for people who aren’t nuns or monks. From labor to community, sacred reading to daily prayer, and a perceptive interpretation of the Benedictine vows as “staying present,” “listening and responding” and “openness to transformation,” Tomaine covers all the key elements of Benedictine spirituality here.
- Reimagining Exodus, A Story of Freedom by Rabbi David Zaslow. Rabbi Zaslow’s previous book, Jesus, First Century Rabbi is a lovely contribution to Jewish/Christian dialogue. He revisits his gentle approach to interfaith exploration with this treatment of the central story in Jewish life: the Exodus, which he explores with a “reimagined” tour through the Biblical narrative, while also both celebrating and critiquing the ways Christians have interpreted (and misinterpreted) this story of liberation and trusting in God. If you are a Christian who wants a deeper appreciation of the Jewish foundation of your faith (and why wouldn’t you?), Rabbi Zaslow is a friendly and insightful guide.
- Spiritual Writings of Karl Rahner, edited by Philip Endean. If you’re avoiding Karl Rahner because he seems too academic or scholarly to be spiritually helpful, then I highly recommend this book. Yes, Rahner had a towering intellect and wrote accordingly, but he was just as renowned for being a man of deep personal faith and authentic prayer; most of the selections in this book clearly were written from the heart, so you don’t have to be working on a PhD in theology to understand them. On the contrary: this anthology reveals Rahner’s deeply prayerful and profoundly trusting spirituality, anchored in a clear respect for tradition but also an innovative understanding of how freedom and creativity form the heart of the spiritual life.
- The Saints: A Short History by Simon Yarrow. This book is more academic than devotional, so it’s not for everyone looking for a Lenten read. Nevertheless I find this brief study of the concept of sanctity and the history of how Christians have understood, venerated, and politicized the heroes of their faith to be fascinating. If nothing else, this book shows us how venerating our religious exemplars is both a deeply human practice and one subject to a variety of expressions over the centuries.
- The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice by Cynthia Bourgeault. I haven’t read this one yet, but a Trappist monk whose opinion I trust says this is the best book Bourgeault has written in quite some time. It begins with a basic overview of centering prayer, making it accessible for beginners; but seasoned practitioners will particularly be drawn to her reflection on a Christian way of approaching nonduality, drawing on Eastern Orthodox spirituality as well as The Cloud of Unknowing.
Now, my publishers would be heartbroken if I didn’t also gently and humbly suggest you consider reading one of my books as well. Answering the Contemplative Call and Befriending Silence both lend themselves particularly well to devotional reading.
May you have a holy and lovely Lent. Walk with wisdom, and offer hospitality to silence and to strangers.
Disclosure: review copies of several of these books were provided to me by their publishers. The links will take you to Amazon, where if you make a purchase I will receive a small commission.
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