Preparing for Lent 5

With this fifth post on preparing for Lent we return to my starting-point, RB 49, St Benedict’s chapter on the observance of Lent, and RB 48, with its reference to Lenten reading. (If you wish to follow through Benedict’s teaching in a more systematic way, please see the four posts from 2012 entitled Through Lent with St Benedict.)

At the beginning of Lent every member of the community is assigned a book of scripture, known as ‘the Lent Book’, to be read straight through in its entirety. It is meant to be read as lectio divina, that slow, prayerful reading of a text that leads naturally to prayer. Therefore, we don’t, in the first instance, get out our commentaries or multiple translations of the text as though we were about to take an examination in scriptural studies. Instead we get down on our knees and read slowly, patiently, closely. Ideally, we take from our reading a word or phrase that we can chew over at other times in the day so that it becomes part of our very selves.

In previous years I have invited readers to send in a request for a Lent Book to be assigned them. The numbers have grown too great for me to continue to do that but at the end of this post you will find an alternative. The point to be emphasized is that we do not choose for ourselves. We accept what we are given, and if that means we struggle with the text, so much the better. We shall learn something we might never otherwise have done — and that is the point of all our Lenten discipline, to learn something that will bring us closer to God. If we haven’t time for a Lent Book as such, reading through the daily Mass readings is an excellent way of following the course of salvation history in union with the rest of the Church. Others may wish to add something more: a Lenten-themed book of some kind. There is no substitute for scripture, however, and the fact that Benedict includes the Lent Book in his chapter on daily manual labour should alert us to the fact that he expects us to put some effort into it.

Lent Books 2018
Members of the community — nuns, oblates and associates — will all receive their personal assignment. But if you would like to share in this practice, please take the first vowel in your first name and read the book listed below:

a the Book of Genesis. There are several passages that make us stop short. What sort of God is this? He is as far removed from the conventional picture of an Old Testament tyrant as it is possible to be. Are our ideas of God in need of a shaek-up?

e — the Gospel of John. There is almost too much in this gospel to take in, but its great parables and narrative of the Passion are essential parts of our preparation for Easter. Are we blind or lifeless, too?

i — The Book of Exodus. The liberation of the people of Israel is our liberation, too. The transcendent holiness of God should stop us being casual in the way we treat him. How do we measure up to that?

o — The Book of Ezekiel. Not for the faint-hearted, but another insight into the compassion of God and his burning zeal for his people. Where do we stand in relation to God?

u — I and II Corinthians. Read this in the context of what was happening in Corinth and what St Paul says has an uncomfortably contemporary ring to it. How do we live our faith today?

May God bless all who take this on themselves this Lent.

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16 thoughts on “Preparing for Lent 5

  1. Thank you so much for your Preparing for Lent series of blogs. These are a wonderful aid to help us prepare well ahead of the start of this special season instead of waiting until it starts which I must confess I usually do…

    My heart sank at my own allocation of Genesis as my Lenten book via your rules, but then I realised that this is the whole point of being asked to read parts of the Scriptures you would normally avoid. So once again “Thank you”, Dame C. 🙂

    • What St Benedict means, I think, is that there should be no hopping about in the text, no skipping of difficult or disagreeable passsages, but a patient, straightforward reading from beginning to end. It requires a lot of discipline to do that, which is one of the reasons why I think he mentions it.

  2. Genesis for me too! I would so much have preferred John or Earlier, but obviously that is the point! I have been blessed by hearing several good sermons on Genesis in my local Reform Synagogue. It is good to get a different perspective on the OT. I was very privileged to be invited to preach there on the Shabbat before Chanaka, when the portion was Joseph’s imprisonment, which was a gift when one’s theme was welcome for the stranger, and refugee integration.
    I shall accept my Lent Book Dame Catherine and work at it.

  3. I’ve only learned about Lectio Divina in the past year and not practised it a great deal, but I formed the impression that the first stage was ‘literal,’ and therefore an intellectual reading with *some* use of commentaries or other interpretive tools might be appropriate. I’d drop these as my reading becomes more prayerful and meditative. Do you discourage that completely?

    • No Benedictine would ever discourage anyone from learning, especially not from learning about scripture. However, I’d always suggest that commentaries, etc. should be read outside the times of lectio divina because they can get in the way and become ends in themselves. In other words, they can be a distraction from or substitute for what we are really about. I mentioned reading on one’s knees. If you’ve tried it, you’ll know that it is very difficult to hold more than one book at a time, and that being on one’s knees does, quite literally, change one’s perspective. When doing lectio divina we aren’t trying to master the text but instead allowing ourselves to be mastered by it. My approach may sound simplistic, but I would urge you to try and see where it leads. Be warned, however, that it isn’t something that happens overnight. It has to be worked at; and regularity is more important that the amount of time spent on it. Better ten minutes every day than an hour or two now and then.

      • Thank you. (I trust this will show up as a reply to your reply?) I’ve practised Lectio Divina on and off, and it generally takes 40 to 50 minutes, which easily feels more like 20. I’ll be practising daily throughout Lent, however, so I may find it quite different. I’ll take your advice.

  4. It’s funny, I remember a more theologically-minded friend saying she dreaded reading Genesis with me, because I’m so much of a scientist. I had to laugh, and ask her how she could possibly think I could also be Christian if I hadn’talready managed to reconcile the creation scriptures with what the scientific evidence implies about the beginning of the universe, up to a point. Genesis is aactually one of my favourite books. I once heard a fantastic sermon about how the story of Noah’s Ark isn’t really child friendly, either! Hope everyone can get something out if it, or another book if that comes up. (NB Mikeala is my middle name, though maybe I should take Exodus instead!)

  5. Thanks for the Lent book. The selection by vowel is inspired! Hope Ezekiel does not scare me off. Not one I would have picked so just what I needed.

  6. Thanks, dear sister! Lorenzo, so Ezekiel. Really hard! (in all the senses). Ideal length, around one chapter a day till Holy Saturday. For me is one opportunity to read the “new” (2008) Italian translation. Have a good Lent!

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