A Lenten Reading List
Lent is swiftly approaching, even though the mountains of snow outside provide no indication that Easter could be less than two months away. With each Lenten season, we pause to think of what we will give up this year, what we will sacrifice for forty days and forty nights. This year, instead of giving up something for Lent, I encourage you, dear readers, to take up an additional spiritual practice for Lent: the spiritual practice of reading.
There’s a passage in Saint Augustine’s Confessions that recounts a significant moment in his conversion to Christianity. Augustine hears a childlike voice from his garden, chanting “tolle, lege” (Latin for “take and read”). He interprets this as a divine command and urgently flips open his Bible. He reads the passage to which the book opens, which is Romans 13:13-14. He recounts, “I seized it, opened it, and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit: ‘Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.’” Augustine describes the effect of this passage on his as spiritually encouraging: “I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.”
Whether you are considering conversion or are looking to further develop your spiritual life this Lent, you can take from the example of Augustine and “take and read.” This list will offer spiritual books that will help you grow closer to God, build a stronger prayer life, and participate fully in the penitential season of Lent.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer: Dense but beautifully written, this book explores contemplation in its necessity, possibility, and reality. Balthasar, one of the greatest Catholic minds of the 20th century, also discusses the role of the Church, liturgy, freedom, and eschatology in contemplation.
“In contemplation, therefore, we have found the link which joins the two halves of Christian existence—the ‘work of God’ in the realm of the Church and the work of man in the everyday world—into a firm unity. Contemplation binds the two together in a single liturgy which is both sacred and secular, ecclesial and cosmic.”
Judy Bauer (ed.), Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen: This book arranges the prolific work of the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen into daily devotions from Ash Wednesday through the Octave of Easter. Each day offers an excerpt from one of Nouwen’s writings, a passage from Scripture, a prayer, and a suggestion for action such as service, fasting, or prayer in Lent.
“Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance. Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God—a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.”
Karl Rahner, The Mystical Way in Everyday Life: Everyday life still goes on during Lent, but theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., believed that everyday life is filled with endless opportunities for mystical encounters with God. This book contains some of Rahner’s sermons, including some for Lent and Easter, along with meditations on how we experience God and his grace in everyday activities including work, leisure, eating, and sleeping.
“Then [the theology of everyday life] is exactly what it is meant to be for the Christian: the place of faith, the school of matter-of-factness, the exercise of patience, the quiet possibility to love truly and faithfully, the space for objectivity, which is the seed of ultimate wisdom.”
Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions: This is a classic read in any course on philosophy, Christian theology, or Church history, but don’t let its preponderance in the academy dissuade you. Confessions is a deeply spiritual text worth reading more than once. Augustine’s account of his conversion to Christianity and his struggles with sin offer spiritual guidance during a season of reconciliation and encouragement to anyone dealing with a rough period in their faith. Augustine writes in an autobiographical manner, which thus invites the reader to participate in his words of praise and confession.
“Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Phyllis Tickle, Eastertide: Prayers for Lent through Easter from The Divine Hours: The Divine Hours is a resource on prayer that has long been a part of tradition and liturgy. This book provides prayers, traditional hymns, Scripture, and psalms for throughout the day (morning, noon, evening, and night) throughout the entire Lenten season. It’s not a traditional read as the other books are, but rather a book to guide you through prayer each day. Each hour helps you refocus your day on God and his grace.
Of course, there are countless mystical classics to add to this list: Saint Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue, Saint Teresa of Avila’s Way of Perfection, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s Come Be My Light, Julian of Norwich’s Showings, Saint John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul, and many others.
What are you reading this Lent?View Sources
 I grew up in a liturgical Lutheran tradition and am now Catholic, so giving up things for Lent has been part of my spiritual practice from a very young age. I recognize, however, that many evangelical Protestant groups do not give up things for Lent. Still, I hope you find this article helpful.
 Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick, (Oxford; Oxford University Press), 1991. 153.
 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer, trans. Johannes Verlag, (San Francisco; Ignatius Press,) 1986. 120.
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen, ed. Judy Bauer, (Liguori, MO; Liguori Publications), 2005. 4.
 Karl Rahner, S.J., The Mystical Way in Everyday Life, (Maryknoll, NY; Orbis Books), 2011. 173.
 Saint Augustine, Confessions, 3.