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LENT BOOKS: Where the real joys of Lent are rooted

by
16 January 2008

Christmas sweetness hides hints of future suffering, says Jeremy Sheehy, as he chooses seasonal reading

Crucified Lord: The Descent from the Cross by the 15th-century Dutch artist Rogier van der Weyden is one of the illustrations in Bishop Christopher Herbert’s book Seeing and Believing: Praying with paintings of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, which is reviewed below

Crucified Lord: The Descent from the Cross by the 15th-century Dutch artist Rogier van der Weyden is one of the illustrations in Bishop Christo...

 A Turning to God
Cardinal Basil Hume
Darton, Longman & Todd £9.95
(978-0-232-52701-8)
Church Times Bookshop £8.95

Journey to Jerusalem: Bible readings from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday
David Winter
Bible Reading Fellowship £7.99
(978-1-84101-485-2)
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

Thirst For Life: The Cafod/Christian Aid Lent book 2008
DLT £4.95 (978-0-232-52721-6)
Church Times Bookshop £4.45

Passionate Christianity: A journey to the cross
Cally Hammond
SPCK £6.99 (978-0-281-05882-2)
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

Thirst For Life: The Cafod/Christian Aid Lent book 2008
DLT £4.95 (978-0-232-52721-6)
Church Times Bookshop £4.45

Passionate Christianity: A journey to the cross
Cally Hammond
SPCK £6.99 (978-0-281-05882-2)
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

The Cross and the Colliery
Tom Wright
SPCK £7.99
(978-0-281-05971-3)
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

Life Conquers Death
John Arnold
Zondervan £8.99
(978-0-310-27976-1)
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

Moving Towards Emmaus: Hope in a time of uncertainty
David Smith
SPCK £9.99 (978-0-281-05909-6)
Church Times Bookshop £9

Adam’s Dream: Human longings and the love of God
Keith Jones
Mowbray £10.99
(978-1-906-28610-1)
Church Times Bookshop £9.90

Life Calling: A five-session course on vocation for Lent
Robert Warren and Kate Bruce
Church House Publishing £4.50
(978-0-7151-4137-3)
Church Times Bookshop £4.05

The Lord’s Prayer: Praying it, meaning it, living it
John Young
York Courses £3.50, or £2.75 for five or more; CD £10.95, or £8.95 each for two or more
(978-0-9546728-7-4)
Church Times Bookshop £3.15

Meeting Jesus
Elizabeth Rundle
CWR £5.99
(978-1-85345-442-4)
Church Times Bookshop £5.40

Seeing and Believing: Praying with paintings of the life, death and resurrection of Christ
Christopher Herbert
Canterbury Press £9.99 for DVD and booklet (out in February)
(978-1-85311-835-7)
Church Times Bookshop £9

Just Church: Lent Programme
Church Action on Poverty
Booklet £7.50, DVD £10, available from
www.justchurch.info or 0161 236 9321

Together for a Season: All-age seasonal resources for Lent, Holy Week and Easter
Gill Ambrose, Peter Craig-Wild, Diane Craven and Peter Moger
Church House Publishing £24.50
(978-0-7151-4063-5)
Church Times Bookshop £22.05

Just Church: Lent Programme
Church Action on Poverty
Booklet £7.50, DVD £10, available from
www.justchurch.info or 0161 236 9321

Together for a Season: All-age seasonal resources for Lent, Holy Week and Easter
Gill Ambrose, Peter Craig-Wild, Diane Craven and Peter Moger
Church House Publishing £24.50
(978-0-7151-4063-5)
Church Times Bookshop £22.05

SO EARLY is Easter this year that most of our local primary schools are having Good Friday and Easter Monday off, then going back for ten days, and then having a longer break. I rather welcome this, since it will give us more opportunities during Holy Week and Easter to work with them, especially with our three parish church schools. Normally the end-of-term service is dominated by preparations for Palm Sunday, but this year we might be focusing on the Paschal Candle, all the flowers in church, and the Easter garden.

It does mean, however, that the pile of books for this review arrived even before Christmas Day, and I started my reading on Boxing Day. Even as I sit down to write, it is only the feast of the Epiphany.

This has made me especially aware of the truth — not new, I know — that the events of Beth-lehem point to the events of Jeru-salem. The early Church saw in the circumcision of Christ a fore-shadowing of the Passion. Many of the Epiphany hymns we have been singing today see the gift of myrrh as a prophecy of the burial of Christ. And our Church of England Liturgical Commission has made much of the relationship between the feast of Candlemas and the keeping of Holy Week and Easter.

This is not just about remem-bering the bitter note in the sweet-ness and joy of Christmas, but also about underlining the real joy we should find in Lent. And that has been something I have wanted especially to see, as I was reading and pondering.

This is not just about remem-bering the bitter note in the sweet-ness and joy of Christmas, but also about underlining the real joy we should find in Lent. And that has been something I have wanted especially to see, as I was reading and pondering.

Each of a first group of books works on the “thought for the day” principle. The one that spoke most powerfully to me, and with which I may well try to keep a daily rendezvous this Lent, is Cardinal Hume’s A Turning to God. This book, edited by Patricia Hardcastle Kelly, is a collection from Lenten addresses given while the late Basil Hume was Abbot of Ampleforth and then Archbishop of West-minster.

Almost none of the material has previously been published, and there is much to reflect on here (although every now and then one is reminded of the origin of the material in a monastic house by a statement that seems almost comically untrue in one’s own context).

David Winter’s Journey to Jerusalem comes from the Bible Reading Fellowship. I always value hearing him on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, and I will return again to this book. I did find myself wishing that his choice of biblical readings could have been related to one of the lectionaries, and have been a bit more liturgically minded. If the prayer of the Office is provid-ing me with one set of biblical readings, and my participation in the eucharist on Sundays and most weekdays another, it helps a good deal to integrate my reflection if my Lenten reading fits in with one or the other.

The CAFOD/Christian Aid Lent book Thirst for Life showed signs of needing either more time in the preparation or a more brutal and bossy editor. There are many valuable thoughts here, but this reviewer was distracted by things such as the variety of abbreviations for particular Bible books (it looks as though the contributors’ choice was given preference over con-sistency), and by the variety in the readings given (for most of the book we get the common eucharistic lectionary provided, but in the fourth week of Lent we get only the Gospel reading).

And though it may not be very politically correct to mention it, it isn’t actually correct to complain that “no women are mentioned” in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s not to his credit, but the elder son makes sure they are (v. 30).

A second group of books offers us a sustained exploration of particular themes. These are not divided into daily reading, but one can work steadily through a series

of chapters. I greatly valued Cally Hammond’s Passionate Christianity: A journey to the cross, which has its origin in Lent addresses given at Norwich Cathedral. The five chapters are based on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary, but you do not have to bear that in mind as you read (although if, like me, you do use the rosary for prayer, and, like me also, you sometimes find the Sorrowful Mysteries the hardest for meditation and contemplation — all that pain and beastliness simply blur together — you may find this book especially helpful).

Here are traditional Lenten themes, with a good foundation in some interesting exposition of Christian doctrine. But my guess is that it could be hard going for those who don’t read very often, or very much. I did like the illustrations a great deal.

One of my churches is sometimes called “the Miners’ Cathedral”, and the Lancashire coalfield once had a significant influence on local em-ployment. The last pit hereabouts closed in 1992, and the ones actually in the parish a good bit before that. Our local pit disaster occurred in the 19th century, but we still remember it in our worship and prayers each year.

So I had noticed Tom Wright’s The Cross and the Colliery even before I came to this collection of books for review. For Holy Week 2007 he went to Easington, a town on the edge of the North Sea whose colliery in 1951 experienced a disaster in which 83 died. The big pit closed in 1993. Here are collected an address for each day from Palm Sunday to Easter Day.

So I had noticed Tom Wright’s The Cross and the Colliery even before I came to this collection of books for review. For Holy Week 2007 he went to Easington, a town on the edge of the North Sea whose colliery in 1951 experienced a disaster in which 83 died. The big pit closed in 1993. Here are collected an address for each day from Palm Sunday to Easter Day.

I was sorely tempted to leave this book out of the review so that I could base my own Holy Week and Easter preaching on it. But I resisted the temptation; for there is much here to ponder more than once. Those of us who need to preach in Holy Week and at Easter may well find it a help.

John Arnold’s Life Conquers Death has a sticker on the front cover telling everyone that it is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “Official” Lent Book for 2008. As the author says in the preface (and as is apparent as one reads the book), it is “made up of a number of disparate elements”. I find it difficult to review. I shall undoubt-edly return to it, and read some sections more than once more.

As Dr Williams says in the fore-word, it is the result of a lifetime of careful reading of Russian literature. But it makes great demands of the reader, and not a few assumptions: I wonder how usable it would prove for any study group I have ever come across, even when I was an Oxbridge college chaplain. And it is a pity (although no doubt a prob-lem with publishing and permis-sions) that, when the cover was settled, the now-mistaken reference to the Rembrandt picture on the front was not amended.

David Smith is a lecturer in mission at International Christian College in Glasgow, and his book Moving Towards Emmaus: Hope in a time of uncertainty uses the account of that well-known Easter appearance to range widely over questions of uncertainty, despair, and hope, in dialogue with a series of writers. These are not necessarily from the Christian community, and they are set against a background of social and cultural analysis. As op-posed to some other books reviewed here, this one consciously inhabits a world that is both post-Christian and post-modern. I guess most Church Times readers may find it takes them out of their comfort zone — and it may be all the better as a Lent book choice for that.

Finally in this group, Keith Jones (who used to be Dean of Exeter, and who refers to English cathedral buildings a number of times in the book) explores our longings for happiness in Adam’s Dream: Human longings and the love of God. It is easy to slip into the assumption that in Lent we ought to feel miserable; so a book on the theme that God wants to give us what we most deeply desire might be rather a good corrective.

Then there are some Lent courses on offer. I particularly liked the look of Life Calling: A five-session course on vocation for Lent by Robert Warren and Kate Bruce. It may even be that, with a very early Lent, an Eastertide course is more appropriate in many places this year, and the whole baptismal emphasis of the Easter season would fit in well with this course.

Then there are some Lent courses on offer. I particularly liked the look of Life Calling: A five-session course on vocation for Lent by Robert Warren and Kate Bruce. It may even be that, with a very early Lent, an Eastertide course is more appropriate in many places this year, and the whole baptismal emphasis of the Easter season would fit in well with this course.

Many of us in ordained ministry find ourselves wondering about the task of teaching people to pray. There is so much else the local church is called to do that this can easily get forgotten. So I enjoyed inspecting the materials for the newest of the York Courses, The Lord’s Prayer: Praying it, meaning it, living it, and have decided we ought to use it here at some point.

Many people were amazed by the popularity of the “Seeing Salvation” exhibition at the National Gallery some years ago. Bishop Christopher Herbert’s Seeing and Believing: Praying with paintings of the life, death and resurrection of Christ is both a course and a book. There are ten sections, which is rather many for Lent, but it could be used across Lent and Easter. For each of ten pictures (shown on the companion DVD) there is a brief introduction and a meditation. I was moved by the meditations, and am already wondering about using the material for a quiet day.

Some Lent courses are more obviously study-based than discussion-based, and Meeting Jesus by Elizabeth Rundle looked to me like a very approachable Bible-study course focusing on seven very different people who meet Jesus in the Gospels.

Just Church is a different sort of Lent course, issued by Church Action on Poverty, and confronting some of the social-justice issues that affect us all, with a special focus on our own communities and Britain. The activities look challenging; but I guess that one practical problem about its use would be that church Lent groups are rarely (at least, in my experience) set up so as to be able to take decisions on behalf of the whole church community.

In other words, a Lent group is not a PCC sub-committee. Any confusion here could cause frustration, I guess.

And finally, and not really fitting into any of the groups above, Together for a Season offers all sorts of all-age resources for keeping the Lent and Easter seasons. It fits in with Common Worship: Times and Seasons, and is intended as a companion to that book, but you don’t have to be using material from it in order to use this collection. No-body will be attracted by all the ideas here, but I can certainly see myself valuing this book as I consider collective school worship over the coming months, and as we plan our children’s morning during the Easter holidays.

The Revd Dr Jeremy Sheehy is Rector in the Swinton and Pendlebury Team Ministry, in Salford.

To place an order for any of the books mentioned here, email your details  to CT  Bookshop

The Revd Dr Jeremy Sheehy is Rector in the Swinton and Pendlebury Team Ministry, in Salford.

To place an order for any of the books mentioned here, email your details  to CT  Bookshop

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