Lent has once again snuck up on me. Still, I am welcoming this season. I don’t know about you, but during these days of what feels like political and cultural chaos, I have been more aware and appreciative of the structures and traditions that support our highest values and beliefs. We take them for granted at our peril. And Lent qualifies as a structure we Christians have to remind ourselves that we are not merely consumers and productivity-bots, but souls. The season also reminds us that we are not the center of even our own worlds. Instead, we prepare our souls by focusing on the true center, remembering Jesus’s work on the cross, and shedding the distractions—whether fears or pleasures or something else—that keep us from the focus we need in order to be of service to those around us. And I think we all could use this work for our current season.
So my main Lenten discipline (though my plan is to continue long past Easter) is to show more explicit appreciation when I encounter the deeper things that sustain our souls and our world. For instance, I have the privilege of being part of a team that publishes books that nourish souls, for which I am deeply grateful. I believe books are a primary means for how we not only pass on wisdom and knowledge to one another, but also one of the most intimate ways one soul can communicate with another. When I think of the physical surroundings of my suburban Midwestern life when I was younger, I can’t imagine who I would have been without the revolutionary words whispered in my bedroom from Vonnegut, Tolkien, Bradbury, Lewis, Merton, Percy, Dostoevsky, Buechner, and many others. How much smaller my world would have been. Thank God for books and their authors.
And so let me lift up and show my gratitude for some books that are arriving in time for Lent and for which we all would gain from their whispering work. The one explicitly Lenten work is Preparing for Easter by C. S. Lewis, fifty excerpts from his other works to help us grapple with the provocative wisdom of someone who—to me, at least—seemed to possess the most thoroughly Christian mind I have ever encountered.
The second book is both startling and inspiring, Why I Left, Why I Stayed, where famous evangelist and apologist Tony Campolo debates and wrestles with his own son, Bart Campolo, who, at fifty-years-old, told his father that he no longer believed God existed. Instead of running from each other (an all-too-common reaction), they decided to stay in relationship with one another and discuss candidly, persuasively, assertively, and respectfully about their differences. Upon reading it, I realized how rare it is to encounter the hard edge between belief and unbelief, between faith and its absence—despite this same debate running quietly in the background in all of our minds. I was further astonished to find myself being moved and inspired by both voices and positions, with the result of my soul being strengthened for facing these issues.
Third, I want to not only point to but thank Carol Howard Merritt for her book Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church. Carol grew up in a conservative Christian home where she not only discovered faith in God but also a church that made room for abuse, dysfunction, and hate. But instead of allowing the latter to wipe out the former, she did the hard work of repairing and recovering so that her coat of faith became healthy and nurturing once more, while still being able to name evil and sin for what it was. Now a Presbyterian minister, Carol has devoted much of her work to others needing to do this work of repair and recovery, which she has now made available in book form. My hope is that many more hurting people will find their faith being restored as “good news” through Carol’s efforts. Thank you, Carol.
Fourth, I would like to give a round of grateful applause to someone who has dedicated her life to the demanding vocation of traveling to many churches and venues, reporting on how our efforts at meeting and being sustained by God are working. Diana Butler Bass is a scholar who has not sat still and, like the Holy Spirit herself, has worked among us so that her writing embodies the deep wisdom that comes from confronting the incarnate realities of our struggles and hopes. And that is what you will find in her latest book, Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution, which has just come out in paperback. Here Diana documents a new grounding people are discovering for how they experience God, a meeting from below, in our earth and flesh, instead of abstractly from on high. If you are worried about what is passing away in our post-church age, you will find hope and guidance in these pages.
Christianity is about deep things, and Lent is a ritual we have for encountering them. And we need to become deep if we have any hope of dealing forthrightly and constructively with the issues and struggles our world faces. That is why we need to cherish and be grateful to those people, resources, and structures that help us become deep, which can begin with these authors and books or by simply embracing the opportunity we call Lent.
Michael G. Maudlin
Senior Vice President and Executive Editor
PS: In celebration of Lent, we’re offering all of Diana Butler Bass’s books—including the new paperback edition of Grounded—for 30% off plus FREE shipping. CLICK HERE to learn more.