Worthy books for this Lenten season[Episcopal News Service] Since the fourth century, Christians have used many labyrinth designs and a multitude of labyrinth resources for personal pilgrimages, meditation and spiritual formation.
A Labyrinth Pilgrimage (Amazon, $4.95) by Chris Radke is a pilgrim's journey for Lent using a cross labyrinth that the author created for use in Christian spiritual formation classes. Radke's labyrinth has a seven-circuit path, with 47 straight lines representing the 40 days of Lent, as well as the Sundays, including Easter Day. "The cross labyrinth has a unique, symbolic connection with Lent," Radke said. "A prayer labyrinth has only one entrance and one destination. In the cross labyrinth, that destination is the foot of the cross."
The book, with daily devotions grouped within seven sections or themes, provides a focus of meditation and encourages a discipline that will help to enrich a reader's spiritual life throughout the year. The weekly themes can also be used as the basis for shorter, separate studies.
Seven other books, recently published, are appropriate for reading this Lent. Michael Sullivan, an Episcopal priest, artist and rector, offers an unusual devotional guide for the holy days and Sundays leading to Easter titled Windows Into the Light: A Lenten Journey of Stories and Art (Morehouse, $18). Sullivan thinks of art as an expression of the soul and each chapter begins with one of his drawings, includes a passage of Scripture, a true-to-life story of the present, and some simple, creative art exercises such as collages. He mixes all of this with prayers, "soul questions" and thoughts for the journey toward Easter.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton credits Madeleine L'Engle's "casual dropping of the names of holy days and church seasons" in her nonfiction with helping her see that Lent and Tenebrae, Easter and Pentecost, Advent and Christmas are woven together, providing many opportunities for meeting God in the church year. In The Circle of Seasons (IVP, $15), she describes in detail this cyclical, circular nature of the church as it enables us to "live out various aspects of our faith, to see life through the lens of the Christ-story and to deepen our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus." Her chapter on Lent, its origin and practices is especially helpful.
Soul Searching, The Journey of Thomas Merton edited by Morgan C. Atkinson, with Jonathan Montaldo (Liturgical Press, $19.95) is a companion book to the PBS documentary shown in December 2008. Film maker Morgan Atkinson, interviewed 30 Merton friends and scholars, distilling more than 60 hours of interviews into the film.
This book, however, includes material not used in the film. Besides excerpts from interviews, Atkinson and Montaldo draw from the Trappist monk's journals, books, letters, poetry and photos, offering readers fascinating glimpses into the man beneath his public image.
Walter Brueggemann begins Great Prayers of the Old Testament (Westminster John Knox, $l6.95) with a discussion of the importance of the "primitive art" drawings on the caves in Southwest Europe. Were they prayers? And when the Pharaoh died and the people of Israel "groaned under their slavery and cried out," was it a prayer? Brueggemann says, "It was an unthought, deeply felt cry for help." God heard and answered (Exod. 2,3). And the story goes on. Among his many wise comments, note this one: "The recovery of a communal (ecclesial) sense of urgent, demanding and sometimes rude prayer is important in contemporary communities of prayer where prayer has become excessively anemic and polite." These Old Testament prayers were often neither anemic nor polite.
Jason Brian Santos came to the Taizé community in France on the day their leader, Brother Roger, was murdered. In fact, Santos was sitting only about 30 feet away from Brother Roger during the evening prayer service when it happened. Santos stayed for about two weeks at Taizé (pronounced TAY ZAY, with equal accent on both syllables) and returned many times to continue his research into the community, its origins and its purpose. In A Community Called Taizé (IVP, $15), Santos says he wants readers to consider his book as "a window into the life of a community that understands itself as the starting point for young pilgrims." In this way, he hopes to share the wealth of knowledge and wisdom he has gained from this community of brothers "whose very existence stands as a witness to the unity and truth of the gospel."
Internationally known as both a physicist and a theologian, John Polkinghorne here collaborates with Nicholas Beale to present Questions of Truth (Westminster John Knox, $16.95). They offer 51 leading questions and answers on such subjects as: the concept and existence of God, the universe, evolution, evil, human being, religion and some interesting conclusions, including this one: "...the whole of the universe is teeming with matter and energy—dark and otherwise—and is amazingly finely tuned to carry within it the potential for intelligent life. Behind this, some see nothing; others discern the mind, and the love of God."
Last but not least is a new edition of The Final Martyrs by Shusaku Endo, (New Directions, $13.95). These 11 stories by the well-known 20th century Japanese author, who wrote from the unusual perspective of being both Japanese and a Roman Catholic, provide a great introduction to Endo's work for those who may not have read any of his writings before. A native of Japan, Endo studied in France before returning to Japan and beginning his long career as a writer. His stories include elusive but haunting references to happenings in his life.» Respond to this article