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Lent books: Refreshing fountains and folded napkins

01 February 2011

David Wilbourne’s Lent trawl moves on to daily readings — and recipes


Beyond Crucifixion: Meditations on surviving sexual abuse
Beth Crisp

DLT £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.90

Reflections for Lent: 9 March-23 April 2011
Jeff Astley, Christopher Herbert and Ann Lewin

Church House Publishing £3.99
Church Times Bookshop £3.60

Feast + Fast: Food for Lent and Easter
Christina Rees
DLT £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

The Promise of Easter: 30 reflections for the season of Lent
Fleur Dorrell

BRF £4.99
Church Times Bookshop £4.50

Jesus Christ — The Alpha and the Omega: Bible readings and reflections for Lent and Easter
Nigel G. Wright

BRF £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

Jesus Christ — The Alpha and the Omega: Bible readings and reflections for Lent and Easter
Nigel G. Wright

BRF £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

TOM WRIGHT, in Lent for Everyone, spans the whole of St Matthew’s Gospel in 47 days, breaking on Sundays to reflect on the Psalms. It is a bracing read. Wright deploys all his skills to provide his own translation of Matthew, followed either by a comment-ary or a dramatic reconstruction (shades of Jonathan Magonet meets Gerd Theissen), ending with a one-sentence prayer.

Writing of the highest quality teems with sound-bites, as heaven takes charge on earth while all the strands of evil in the world seem to rush together on Christ. A book to challenge (“We can’t carry on as though it wasn’t God’s wedding party”), refresh (“Cheer up, it’s me,” Jesus proclaims to the storm-ridden disciples), and enable growth (“Wonderful news!” Jesus introduces each Beatitude, like a benign town crier). The trouble is that it is so good that the reader will find it hard to stop at the end of each day’s reflection, but will want to read on.

In Beyond Crucifixion, Beth Crisp draws 47 prayerful reflections from the Roman Catholic daily lectionary for Lent, each beginning with a quote either about sexual abuse or by an abuse victim. This highly balanced book genuinely enters the mindset of those who (to quote Bishop Geoffrey Robinson) have experienced a “bulldozer gouging a road through this fragile ecosystem of love”.

Noting that we emotionally illiterate beings shy away from exploring feelings that cannot be expressed in a Hallmark card, Crisp gently introduces right and wrong ways of relating to abuse victims. She encourages a flourishing rather than just a coping, creating a beautiful mosaic out of the broken pots, china, and mirrors of victimhood.

This book itself proves a beautiful mosaic of the practical and spiritual. Each reflection ends with a striking prayer worthy of Michel Quoist. “And when we really need it, send us an angel,” one prayer concludes. Crisp has.

Reflections for Lent proved disappointing. Published to accompany the weekday morning-office readings in the Common Worship lectionary, it promised an enriching reflection on either the Old or New Testa­ment reading, but then blew 31 of its 40 days on Jeremiah. Admittedly, there were one or two oases (such as “God’s limitless love always trumps untrammelled justice” and “self-satisfaction is anathema to true religion”), but it was mostly a plod through a very dry desert indeed, not helped by unnecessary repetition of collects easily accessed elsewhere, and all set in the flattest of formats.

In contrast, in Feast + Fast, Christina Rees presents a firework display focusing on five Lenten themes: preparing for Lent, entering into Lent’s spirit, fasting, Lenten recipes, and Holy Week and Easter reflections. Richly drawing on autobiographical material (including ten early years living on board a boat) to challenge the reader to “splash in refreshing fountains and drink in the warmth of divine love,” Rees provides an honest and perceptive Lenten miscellany to provoke a full-blooded reassessment of our spiritual and physical lifestyle.

She is unashamed of a quirky humour that encourages going to the supermarket disguised in a wig to avoid friends’ recog­nising you, sticking a French bean up your nose to gain the attention of your children, and spicing up a dead meal with sullen teenagers by announcing that you are considering becoming a nudist in the home.

As for her intriguing recipes, while her granny’s creamy fish pie didn’t prove as good as mine, the raw lasagne was brilliant, although best not tried immediately before conducting a confirmation. A wonderful, earthy, spiritual book, brimming with an arresting spirituality: “God is that deep-rooted pain within the universe from which love grows.”

Fleur Dorrell’s The Promise of Easter contains 30 meditations on holiness, relationship, forgiveness, sacrifice, and hope and love, each springing from a pot-pourri of biblical texts, followed by a brief spiritual exercise, prayer, and reflection. The signifi­cance of the Passion flower (featured on the cover) is explained in an early section, with helpful links to other websites featuring pictures inspired by Gospel texts.

The lucid, accessible meditations frequently refer to Greek and Hebrew origins of biblical material, with many original insights. For instance, pondering the sig­nificance of the folded napkin in the empty tomb, Dorrell notes how, in antiquity, a master folded his napkin after a meal to signify he had some unfinished business with his servants.

Occasionally, her over-confident pro­nounce­ments jarred with me (as in “God does not have vague or random after­thoughts”), and at one stage she seems to accept the schemata of Genesis uncritically, at variance with the scholarly balance in the rest of the book. But any minor irritations are offset by marvellous prayers, beseeching a crucified God, “outstretched, outcast, outlived but not outdone”.

Nigel Wright, in Jesus Christ — The Alpha and the Omega, promises to set out robustly a whole, not a partial, Christ. Before eight meditations for Holy Week, we have 39 Christological reflections, initially drawn solely from biblical material, unfettered by any concessions to modern biblical scholar­ship, a scientific world-view, or even logic. But Wright broadens as his book unfolds, suggesting that the Sermon on the Mount is a compilation, questioning Johannine chronology, and citing Basil Hume, John Saxbee, Søren Kierkegaard, and even Paul Tillich, as he explores God’s immanence as well as his transcendence: “At the cross we learn to accept that we are accepted, even though we continue to find ourselves unacceptable.”

It is good when a book broadens the author as well as its readers.

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