I did not grow up in a church which traditionally encouraged the giving up of things for Lent, but this year I became convicted in my soul that since Jesus gave up everything for me, I should be equally willing to give up something for Him.
And I knew that it would have to be something that mattered to me, otherwise what would be the point?
So I gave up recreational reading. I decided to read only what fostered spiritual development during my off-hours reading time (due to the nature of my job, it is to be understood that I could not give up all non-Spiritual reading altogether).
At first, this felt little more than an exercise, one that seemed to have no other impact on my daily life than that I couldn't read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it; however, the further into the forty days I progressed, the more I realized that this was the very essence of giving up: setting aside my own personal impulses in order to, as Paul puts it, keep under myself and bring myself into subjection. At times, it was much harder than I imagined it would be.
But then within the last week or so, I began to feel the impact of all of the spiritual food really kicking in. Concurrently with reading a Gospel Harmony during my devotions, I was also plowing through a paraphrased version of the works of Josephus. Suddenly, I was making connections like I'd never made them before. The powerful dynamic of the New Testament saga struck me with such force that I found myself up an hour earlier than I needed to be this morning in order to re-read the harmonized account of the Passion Week.
For thoughts, connections, and other spiritual blessings that the Lord bestowed on me this past week, keep your eyes tuned to this site.
For now, I present to you a complete chronology of my Lenten Reading.
Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest, David McCasland
(For review, see here.)
The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
I adore C.S. Lewis's writings not only for the clarity of his prose, but also for the depth to which his words pierce my conscience.
Burden of Truth: Defending the Truth in a World that Doesn't Believe It, Charles W. Colson
As this was written in the 90s, one can expect the examples to be a bit dated (and one would be right), but the message for Christians remains the same: standing up for the truth is our burden.
If, Amy Carmichael
I would venture to say that if a Christian cannot bring himself to read this book all the way through, then he knows nothing of Calvary love. And the task is more difficult than one might think: for me, each page turn seems to uncover a fresh conviction.
The three that struck me during this most recent reading:
"If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting 'Who made thee to differ? and what has thou that thou has not received?' then I know nothing of Calvary love."
"If in dealing with one who does not respond, I weary of the strain, and slip under the burden, then I know nothing of Calvary love."
"If I fear to hold another to the highest goal because it is so much easier to avoid doing so, then I know nothing of Calvary love."
Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, T.S. Eliot
To say that I enjoyed reading TS Eliot's essays immensely would be an understatement, but one for which the reader will forgive me. The alternative, of course, would be for me to fly into intellectual raptures which would take reams of paper to relate appropriately. Let me just say that had I read this book ten years ago on the outset of my literary teaching career, my classes may well have turned out completely differently. On the other hand, I was most likely not at that point well read enough to have appreciated the subject matter. If you don't think you're up for the entire collection of essays, I recommend at least reading "Religion and Literature" or his criticisms of Milton and Tennyson.
Oh, and those who are well-read enough to appreciate them will find no shortage of intellectual snubs and jabs. Nobody does the literary burn better than Eliot.
(And those TS Eliot quotes that I was posting a few months ago? All taken from these essays, it would seem. It was a veritable buffet of delectably quotable snippets. Don't worry: you will be seeing much more about him from me in days to come.)
Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, Specially Arranged for Children, William F. Russell
Finished reading these to my class on Friday (we did one per day last quarter) and found these condensed versions to be worthwhile in getting the main stories across without falling into too many rabbit trails (although sometimes the rabbit trails are the best parts of the myths). But to use as an introduction and general overview to Greek and Roman mythology, I say this book was worth what I paid for it.
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
Felt the weight of this one more heavily than the last time that I read it. The book hasn't changed, of course, so that must mean that I have.
Josephus: Thrones of Blood, A History of the Time of Jesus, 37 B.C. to 70 A.D., Edited by Barbour Book Staff
Although my dad recommended the works of Josephus to me YEARS ago, he made the mistake of loaning me his all-in-one edition of The Antiquities of the Jews & The Jewish Wars, complete with eye-watering typefont and prose so dense I'm shocked it hasn't collapsed into a black hole. Unsurprisingly, I only made it about four pages before giving up completely, and even now I am shocked that the experience didn't set me off reading for life.
Fortunately, I stumbled across this highly abridged and modernized paraphrase, and am I so glad!
Josephus really does have everything.
Comedy (Titus taking a dart in the nose), Romance (lots of men marrying their own nieces and sisters), Tragedy (the destruction of the Jerusalem and all that went along with it), Family Drama (can we say Salome?), and Betrayal (the Josephus suicide pact).
In addition to those special treats, the reader also encounters: a river of boiling oil poured down the walls of Jerusalem, visions, dreams, baby-eating mothers, cross-dressing homosexual Jewish zealots, brave Bernice, dead bodies launched over walls, heads flying 12,000 feet, and the epic nuttiness of Caligula.
I say this is a must-read for history buffs and do-it-yourself Bible scholars alike. I found myself completely shocked and appalled at the utter insanity that ensued leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. I had known that Titus destroyed it as Jesus predicted, but I'd had no idea the extent to which the city had been overrun by warring factions of JEWS before the Romans put an end to the entire debacle. So, so sad.
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As noted above, I will have more to share regarding my Lenten readings and subsequent spiritual epiphanies at a later date. Until then, keep reading, keep growing, and press on!