To be friends with God this Lent
DEEPENING FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD: Daily Reflections for Lent, by Anthony Egan SJ, Trevor Hudson & Russell Pollitt SJ. Jesuit Institute SA, Johannesburg (2017). 129pp
The clue to the tone of this book of Lenten reflections is in the title: to deepen our friendship with God. This notion of God as a friend rather than as a judge offers a counterweight to the idea of Lent as a bleak penitentiary season in which we atone for the legion ways in which we invariably offend God.
Emphasising God’s love and mercy relieves what can be too much of a focus on our failures. Of course, we also must not lose sight of our sins and work on that necessary interior clean-up. But even our sometimes defectively observed Lenten penance for these failures carries the risk of widening our separation from God, whose embrace we might feel unworthy of.
This inspiring book of reflections is providing guidance in identifying our sins and shortcomings, and, implicitly, how Scripture is a how-to guide in dealing with these, and healing ourselves. And the tool that we have in addressing our weaknesses is prayerful reflection of the kind this book guides its reader in.
The authors ask us to surrender to God, being assured that in our own messiness, he will welcome us. “There is no need to set things straight before we can answer… Jesus wants us to follow him as we are right now,” the authors write. Our transformation is effected through our relationship with Jesus, not in some sort of qualification process for it.
This is an empowering message, especially for those who feel their inventory of sins is an obstacle to acceptance by God. It is also an important message for today’s equivalents of the older brother of the Prodigal Son (whom all of us probably resemble at some point or other).
A collaborative effort between two Jesuit priests, Frs Anthony Egan and Russell Pollitt, and Methodist Rev Trevor Hudson, Deepening Friendship With God is intended to be what the authors call a “trampoline” into prayer that leads to the transformation in Christ which the Lenten season calls us to.
The daily reflections — which cover the period from Ash Wednesday to the Second Sunday of Easter — are based on that day’s Scripture readings, so it is useful to have your daily missal or Bible at hand.
The reflections are pastoral in tone. They are erudite but written with admirable clarity and brevity. Happily, the writers have evaded the hazard of creating texts that are too dense, too theological, or too preachy.
Each day’s reflection concludes with a few questions designed to animate prayer, so this book is also very useful for Bible study and prayer groups.
Some reflections take unexpected turns. The Holy Thursday entry shines a light on leadership and the hierarchical structures of business, politics and, yes, religious bodies. That is a strength of this book: to make us think of Scriptures we know well in new ways.
The eagle-eyed reader will have spotted that there is one day when there cannot be reflections based on that day’s readings — because there are no readings on Holy Saturday. Here the authors become particularly innovative by putting words into the mouths of people at the centre of the Passion narrative — plus a character named “Biblical Scholar”.
A good book of Lenten reflections should transcend the season for which it is intended and have currency at any time of the year. Lent provides us with a particular momentum to pursue a programme for renewal, but our transformation should be not just an event but an ongoing process. Deepening Friendship With God is a good way of keeping up that momentum throughout the year because the reflections have universal application. Indeed, I suspect that with every repeated use of the reflections, new layers of insight and understanding will be revealed.
The focus of the book is on the personal, with the objective being: How do I get closer to God? And having come, hopefully, closer to God, the final reflection calls on the reader, as Jesus would, to take the fruits of their transformation to others.
• The book is available from the Jesuit Institute at R100 plus p&p. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org