In my last post, I wrote about the importance of preparing for Lent before Ash Wednesday arrives. Today I’m writing a complimentary post about practical ideas and suggestions that might help you prepare this final week before Lent begins. Lent calls us to practice prayer and fasting for forty days. But how will you pray and fast?
Each Lent I adopt the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and service. Yet I’ve discovered in recent years the importance of music and books to reinforce my Lenten disciplines. Here are some suggestions of music and books that may help you observe Lent this year.
My Lenten Playlist for 2014
The Oh Hellos, ‘Through the Deep, Dark Valley’
I discovered this album last summer on Noisetrade.com and halfway through the first listen, I thought ‘this is a Lenten album.’ Through the Deep, Dark Valley is an album of truth-telling and confession about one’s mistakes, hence two tracks entitled, ‘I Was Wrong,’ and ‘I Have Made Mistakes.’ True confession is unpopular these days. But Maggie and Tyler Heath have learned the speech of lamentation and this entire album is a prodigal’s prayer for mercy. In an album full of raw honesty about past regrets, there’s great hope for restoration and healing in their catalogue of songs. Listen to The Oh Hellos this Lent and let their songs teach you the speech of confession, lament, and mercy.
Josh White, ‘Absolution’
The first Josh White album I heard was released as a self-titled work under the artist name Pilgrim. White uses a bevy of technological sounds and effects on the Pilgrim album, an impressive and creative work deserving your attention, as well.
Absolution is an entirely different album. Simplicity is the essence of Absolution–the songs, the lyrics, the vocal and instrumental performance. Each song is a simple prayer. White’s album is pure-hearted, a lesson in praying without the clutter of eloquent phrasing. His prayer-songs remind me of the poor publican whom Jesus admired, beating his chest in authentic humility as he prayed. Listen to Absolution and you’ll learn the language of simple, humble prayer.
The most important reading that I will do during Lent is reading Scripture. Reading the Daily Office helps prepare me for each season of the Christian year and the readings will prepare my heart and mind for Holy Week and Easter.
Last year at Apostles we had a community devotional where one person from our church submitted an online meditation each day. We’ll be hosting that Lenten devotional blog beginning Ash Wednesday at apostlesonline.org. This online Lenten devotional bears witness that everyone has a sermon to share. Amen for the priesthood of all believers!
In addition to reading the Daily Office and Apostles’ online devotional, I will be reading Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s The Sacrament of the Present Moment. Last month I read a great little book by Kevin DeYoung entitled Crazy Busy, which addresses the hurry-sickness of many Christians and its threat to our witness. Caussade’s book is more meditative in style, yet it teaches one how to see the presence of God in all situations. Learning to see each moment as a sacrament trains the mind and heart to honor God in every conversation, every decision, every moment throughout the day.
An Unconventional Lenten Reading List
The Lenten journey leads to the the Cross, the place of indescribable human suffering for the Son of God. Someone once suggested that Lent is a fitting time to read stories of human suffering that we usually ignore. It’s commonplace, especially among Americans, to turn away from stories of human suffering. Lent calls us to wake up and draw near to human suffering throughout the world.
Here’s a suggested guide for an unconventional Lenten reading list:
- Choose a country or region in the world that interests you.
- Find an eyewitness account of someone from that country or region who tells the story of an experience they have suffered.
- Read that book prayerfully and ask that God would awaken your heart to those who have been ‘stricken with grief’ through tragedy and loss.
You may not be able to serve as an aid worker in a distressed nation, but you can draw near the suffering of any people by hearing their story and interceding on their behalf. And that is a small way of meditating on Jesus’ words and teaching in Matthew 25 to recognize him in the face of anyone who suffers.
I can’t explain why, but I’ve always been fascinated with the Balkan region. I lived through the atrocities of the Balkan war in the 1990s and barely paid a passing glance. Yet the Balkan peoples were on the cross in these years. I was a teenager then, but now I’m an adult. It’s time to hear the stories of peoples who suffered inhumane things in this region of the world. That’s why I’ll be reading Simon Winchester’s The Fracture Zone this Lent.
I can also recommend an excellent work of historical fiction on the Balkan wars of the 1990s, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. Galloway’s narrative tells the story of a cellist who defies the madness all around him by creating beautiful music in the middle of a war zone. A powerful novel.
Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the 1980s, but I’ve always been fascinated with Russia. The older I’ve grown, the more I’ve become intrigued with the story of the Russian people. Few writers have explored the beauty, tragedy, and depth of the human soul like Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The Brothers Karamazov shaped my theology better than some seminary courses I took.
This Lent, I’ll be reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,a novel based on his own imprisonment in the Soviet gulags. Somehow in the course of his imprisonment, Solzehnitsyn embraced Christianity through much suffering. Reading authors like Solzehnitsyn helps me meditate further on Matthew 25: ‘when were you in prison and we did not visit you?’ Reading eyewitness literature helps me remain faithful to the way of the Cross, even if it doesn’t seem convenient or uplifting.
I’m not sure where the custom of ‘choosing your fast’ originates, but I’d recommend a different fast before choosing something on your own. I don’t discourage choosing an individual fast at all. I’ll add a personal fast as well, probably some food that I’m inclined to eat on a daily or every-other-day basis. I simply think my personal fast is a secondary priority.
Not all Anglican priests will agree with me, but I believe there’s a greater priority to join the Lenten fast of millions of Christians by abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. This fasting practice dates back to the early church. Biblical fasting is always communal and abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays is a simple way of sharing communion with millions of Christians around the world.
Before you begin…
What I’ve suggested here is a Lenten rhythm that will challenge me, yet one that I can reasonably keep. There will certainly be days when I have no interest in the books I’m reading or the foods I’m eating (or not eating). Keep in mind that the books I’m reading are all short reads! There will also be days I listen to no artist or band, only the music of silence.
The most important rule of any Lenten discipline a rule that is consistently repeated throughout the church fathers: let each one take on what they are able to do. It is much better to take a smaller discipline that you can keep for 40 days than aspire to a lofty goal that you abandon the second week of Lent. Any fast you devote with wholeness of heart unto the Lord will be a fast pleasing to Him.