Lent has turned into a time of reading. I know many pastors are avid readers…I’m not. I’m slow, tedious and hard to please. I have started many-a-book that I never finished, including books I was enjoying. My favorite book of all time, A Prayer for Owen Meany, I began 3 times before completing. I guess I have a shorter attention span and/or I crave immediacy, which is not a common trait in books. I gravitate to music, which can reach me while driving or writing a blog post (In Paradisium, from Faure’s Requiem). I like magazines, mostly for the pictures. If it’s a warm day in Central Park, I’d prefer a Frisbee to a book. I can watch the ocean waves for hours and never crack a trashy novel.
But books require one to slow down and make one’s down-time less slothful. A crafty novel (Light in August) meanders through various rooms in the mind before settling in on the point. This must by why reading is a superior way to learn. In an On-Demand culture that increasingly demands immediacy, the book is hopefully counter-cultural. [I read a great blog post about—of all things—blog posts, in which the ‘expert’ said that a superior blog post contains “bullet points”. No recognition that some things cannot be boiled down to salient sound bytes; no awareness that a well-crafted paragraph will teach you more than another top ten list; just bullet-points for bullet-point’s sake. He didn’t have time to read.]
So Lent finds me with a heap of reading to conquer. Of course, it is not the quantity that counts, but the quantity does demand some time management.
- Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas. I got this biography for Christmas and have read some mixed reviews on it. I have enjoyed the background on Bonhoeffer’s family thus far and realize that I need to know him better.
- Samuel (author unknown). My scripture reading for Lent was designed to be the ‘story of David’. I know enough about David to be dangerous. He is too important for a resident theologian NOT to know. And yet, the book is not called 1 & 2 David…it is 1 & 2 Samuel. It is about Samuel. David steals many scenes and claims his own notoriety. David demands our attention, yet Samuel works quietly for God. And Israel can never be the same. I am no Samuel, I am merely a country preacher. But maybe I ought to take my own job with the level of gravity that Samuel takes his. He sees Israel’s needs, understands God’s concerns, and cannot, in any way, please them both. I have begun Samuel’s saga and have been praying about my dedication to God. Samuel was ‘lent’ to the Temple by his mother Hannah. Unsurprisingly, God claims full ownership. Neither can I say that I am my own man.
- Prayer by Richard Foster. This is the current selection for our Wednesday night class. This group began with Companions in Christ and has blossomed into a committed group of learners. They are a joy to teach, mainly because they have taught me so much. I have learned that one must approach God/The Bible/Jesus/faith/spirituality with a certain joyful curiosity. So many do Bible studies because they feel that they have to. Others tread on the superficial matters, as if they are still in 3rd grade Sunday school.
As for Prayer itself, I am impressed with the way Foster takes a nuance of prayer and magnifies it, sowing us the utility of the prayer. I appreciate the lack of ‘how-to’ steps and the implicit trust that he has for the reader. This has encouraged me as a teacher to look for and appreciate the possibilities of all students.
- Genesis. One of my churches has requested a ‘good ole’ Bible study. I think that means reading a Cokesbury miniature magazine about the Bible. That’s not really how I teach. I value reading the text directly, paying attention to what it really says and engaging the text as it actually exists. I value adults studying the Bible as adults, breaking out of the 3rd grade level Bible studying. So I’ve done a rather thorough scan of Genesis in preparation. I had forgotten how fascinating the book is: how full of conundrums, drama, tragedies and moments of real sweetness. One of my favorite moments in the Bible is when Isaac and Ishmael reunite long enough to bury Abraham. I always wonder what their conversation was like as they traveled to the cave where they’ll bury their father next to Sarah. I also appreciate the effort Abraham undertakes to secure an appropriate bride for Isaac…how Isaac took Rebekah and loved her. “So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” We’ll probably use this story to talk about grief.
- Peter. No not the letters of Peter, but stories involving Peter. I love the stories that are this year’s gospel selections from the Revised Common Lectionary. These quintessential Johannine texts were fun to preach 3 years ago. But this year, I had a hard time finding a plotline through the texts that would unite the season. I saw 1 Peter lurking in Eastertide. It seems like an apt Epistle for Eastertide. I wanted to connect the hopefulness of the Epistle to the bumbling, stumbling, denying pre-Easter Simon. So I’ve been reading these quintessential Peter texts as a model for Lent: we want to leave everything, we recognize Jesus for who he really is, we try to walk on water but quickly doubt, and we stumble when it matters, cutting off ears, going astray.