I have no clue what I’m going to read for Lent. Usually I choose something special but I may just keep going with my current book, The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion and Media by Marshall McLuhan.
Yes, you read that right. It’s by “the medium is the message” Marshall McLuhan who happened to be a devout Catholic convert. Who knew? Not me. Luckily a pal thrust this book into my hands one evening and was so enthusiastic that I didn’t have the heart to thrust the book back. Boy, oh boy. I’m sure glad I didn’t. This is a really great book with a lot for me to reflect upon. And it’s is extremely timely for our internet intensive lives.
However, that is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Luckily, I have an ever-growing list of books that I either have read for Lent or would gladly read. Some may be familiar because I just can’t stop pushing them (or rereading them).
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Or, since Lent is only 40 days, at least the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring. I was was blown away by how much the audio experience added to my understanding of the richness and depth of the story. Admittedly, it was also greatly helped by The Tolkien Professor’s class sessions on this book. You will be hard put to find a better primer on sacrifice, redemption, and many other key lessons for Christian life. I think this may be the best book ever written. And you could do worse than to read The Hobbit for starters.
Joseph R’s review is the best I’ve read if you’d like a more complete look at the novel.
Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The “Others” live among us, an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. Night Watch is three stories, each is told by former file clerk Anton, a Light Other who is now getting field experience in keeping the treaty between the Light and the Dark. The way the three stories all look at Light and Dark, treaties and compromises, and even what it means to be unyielding on one side or the other … is all not only a good story but food for thought about our own lives. My full review is here.
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
A bedraggled, galley ship survivor, despite his best efforts to the contrary, finds himself in the middle of royal intrigue. If that weren’t enough, he is also pulled into the the affairs of the divine as a result and this complicates his life as one might imagine. This is a land of various gods and strong, dark magic. It is, however, also a land where free will matters in the outcome of events. Will Duquette calls this “theological science fiction” and I agree. The way that free will is intertwined with what the gods desire, as well as what is “right,” is fascinating and a good way to examine our own motives the next time we turn away from what God may be asking of us. My full review is here.
The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell
Of course, I’m still pushing this book. It is rare, to find a book about the zombie apocalypse that addresses the larger themes that one finds in science fiction apocalyptic literature. The Reapers Are the Angels is just such a rarity. Author Alden Bell looks beyond the popular appeal of zombies to the depths of the human soul. The column I wrote for last Lent about this book is at Patheos.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Harry is an incredible Christ-figure as I discovered when I reread the series recently. Of course, this only works for those who have read the series before. For more depth and as accompanying materials, readers may want to listen to Episode 26 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast where Scott Danielson and I discuss the book and the entire series from a Catholic point of view.
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community. That’s the official description but it doesn’t begin to cover the richly woven tapestry Godden weaves with nuanced personalities, mysteries to solve so that the order may continue, Philippa’s internal struggles, and much more.
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden
Another Godden book about a completely different order of nuns. This is an inspiring tale of conversion and redemption told in flashback sequence. We meet Lise when she is being released from prison where she has served her term for murder. She is going to join an order that ministers to those on the fringes of society. Through Lise’s thoughts, we watch her go from being a young WWII staffer in Paris, become seduced by a man who has a brothel and eventually turns her into a prostitute where later on she becomes the manager. The reasons behind the murder become clear as the threads come together again in the people around Lise in current time. My full review is here.
The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
These books seem an interesting blend of fiction and nonfiction to me. Lewis’s imagination is vivid and fascinating. His tendency to have characters speechify leans to the nonfiction side. Taken as a meditative read, they would be very good for Lent, I’d think.
Out of the Silent Planet: The audio version of this made interesting listening. Dr. Ransom is kidnapped by two men who take him to Mars as a sacrifice to the natives. Ransom learns of their plot and escapes only to find, as the blurb says, a planet enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity.” Lewis was fantastically inventive about what the planet and living beings were like. I didn’t know he had it in him.
Perelandra: This book is so different from Out of the Silent Planet and yet we see C.S. Lewis’s vivid and inspiring imagination just as clearly. I am simply blown away by his vision of creation on Venus. For me at one point, close to the end, I kept thinking that these are almost glimpses of the sort of creativity and inspiration that we will see in Heaven. Amazing insights as to battling evil, the dance of God’s creation and plan, and our part in it.
I haven’t read the third book yet, so you’re on your own for that one!
OTHER GREAT BOOKS – Nonfiction
The Last Monk of Tibhirine by Freddy Derwahl
I haven’t done a formal review yet, but my Goodreads comments are here. The Last Monk of Tibhirine is the story of the Cirstercian monk Jean-Pierre Schumacher, the last surviving member of a monastic community which was kidnapped and killed in Algeria in 1996. This is the community whose story was told in the movie Of Gods and Men. This book lends itself to reflection about our own faith and how we respect that of others while remaining true to our own. A wonderful, meditative work.
A Song For Nagasaki by Fr. Paul Glynn
The biography of Takashi Nagai, a young Catholic Japanese doctor who lived through the bombing of Nagasaki and became an inspiration for spiritual healing for his people. Paul Glynn combines vivid descriptions, character insights, and just enough Japanese history so that we have context. As a result I wound up admiring the Japanese people even more than I did already. I never realized how many of the Japanese ideals combine with saintly living, especially as seen through Takashi Nagai’s eventful life. My review here.
The Bells of Nagasaki by Takashi Nagai
Among the wounded on the day they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki was a young doctor who, though sick himself cared for the sick and dying. Written when he too lay dying of leukemia, The Bells of Nagasaki is the account of his experience. It is deeply moving story of faith under extraordinary conditions. My review is here.
When the Carpenter Was King by Maria von Trapp
Unable to answer questions from her children about what Jesus ate for breakfast, von Trapp began asking priests and collecting books to find out about daily life for the Holy Family. She then wrote this account which, although simple, I find strangely riveting. It is just brushed slightly with the fiction brush, being largely a historical “you are there” book to bring us into what life was like for a faithful Jewish family back then. My full review here.
Lectio Divina books by Stephen J. Binz
I can’t express how much I love these books, but this review for his Advent and Christmas book will give you an idea. Stephen Binz is a passionate advocate of Lectio Divina, the ancient practice of studying and praying using Scripture. The point of lectio divina is to personally encounter God and that is something I can relate to very well since I can’t count the number of times I have had “aha!” moments of connection when I’m reading. Actually, that’s what this big list is all about, right? He’s got a book out for Lent (which I don’t have) and one for Easter. See all of them at Word Among Us’s page.
Night of the Confessor by Tomas Halik
Night of the Confessor is rich and deep, with somehow simple ideas. Just when the author says something that I have a knee-jerk reaction of “that’s not how faith works” he goes further and deeper so that I understand the reasons behind the surface statement … and usually agree. This is thoughtful and thought provoking writing which I am letting sink in. And it is enriching my internal life. A fuller review is here with a lengthy excerpt.
Gospel of Mark, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) by Mary Healy
This is a really great commentary. Healy combines a lot of the information that I have in a variety of other commentaries (both Catholic and Protestant), but then pulls it all together with additional observations that make it very accessible while still being scholarly. She follows up many sections with items for reflection. My review is here.
To Know Christ Jesus by Frank Sheed
Sheed looks at Jesus’ life by weaving together all four Gospels. He also takes into consideration the times in which Jesus lived, how the people then would have interpreted Christ’s teachings and witness, links to the Old Testament, teachings of the Chruch Fathers, archaeology, and more. The goal of all this is to give us a richer, deeper understanding of Jesus since to know the Father you must know the Son … and there is nowhere better to meet him than through the Gospels.
The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians by John Brook
Interestingly Brook partially presents this introduction to promote ecumenism for he points out that praying from the Psalms makes Protestants feel right at home in the practice. This book not only tells about the divine office, but has an explication of the psalms commonly prayed so that we more easily find Christ in them.
Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom
This book is written with complete simplicity but yet somehow contains depths that one thinks of for some time afterward. Let’s just begin with this … “If you look at the relationship (us and God) in terms of mutual relationship, you would see that God could complain about us a great deal more than we about Him. We complain that He does make Himself present to us for a few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer ‘I am busy…”
Contemplating the Trinity: The Path to Abundant Christian Life by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa
He was the preacher to the papal household for Pope John Paul II and continued in that capacity for Pope Benedict XVI, at least for a while. I always have found his writing and homilies to be both easy to understand and inspirational. This book to be the same sort as The Interior Castle in that reading a few paragraphs a day lets the message sink in each day. I read this during Lent a few years ago and it was wonderful.
Happy Catholic for Lent
There are two other books that could make good Lenten reading:
Happy Catholic – my book! In either softcover or Kindle / Nook format.
Lord, Open My Heart (this is only available as an ebook now, but is I wrote it specifically for Lenten meditation)