Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Books for Holy Week

Thank you to everyone who chimed in on the eReader discussion. I found all of your points very interesting and insightful. 

We are currently in the middle of Holy Week and as Christians, this is a week of anticipation, reflection, and meditation. We look to Good Friday with its sorrow and promise of redemption and anticipate the joy of Easter as we celebrate the resurrection. All around the world Christians in Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions have ways of marking this special week. I am currently enrolled in a class where there are people of all sorts of faith traditions and nationalities and it has been so interesting to learn about the different celebrations of Holy Week. In Greek villages, Orthodox Christians, dressed as though they were attending a funeral, gather together the Saturday night before Easter. The feeling is somber and quiet. And then, at midnight, the bells toll and everyone throws off their veils of sadness and shouts "He is risen" and everyone embraces, kisses, hugs, and a celebration ensues. Wouldn't it be amazing to see that? In Paris, Catholics will take part in processions on Good Friday marking the Stations of the Cross set up along some of the most famous streets. I love learning about these traditions as they enrich my understanding of my faith and allow me a view of the vast history and scope of Christianity. 

To mark this week, I wanted to share a couple books that helped shape my understanding of the traditions of the Christian faith. These are not theological books, they're historical and fictional, but they were important in developing an appreciation for the debt our cultural heritage owes to Christianity.

The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola introduces readers to medieval celebrations of Christ. This book is based on an ancient French legend and teaches some wonderful lessons about gifts, generosity and sacrifice. The story is lovingly retold by Tomie dePaola who charmingly illustrated the book in such a way that conveys the tenderness of the story as well as the joy.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare was one of my favorites as a teen. It opened my eyes to the  complex world of Palestine at the time of Jesus. One of the things I really appreciate about this book is that it manages to convey an idea of how Jesus would have been seen by his contemporaries. The young zealot sees him as a savior, but is disappointed when Jesus refuses to take up the sword and fight the Roman occupiers. Others see him as a gentle healer, one who inspires them, urges them to be kind, meek, gentle hearted. And others see him as the Messiah, the one who has been anticipated by the Jews for millennia. 

Quo Vadis by Henryk Seinkeiwicz is a Christian and literary classic. It tells of the persecution of the Christians under Nero and their tenacity and courage in holding on to their faith. It shows how the early Church began to form into a movement, gathering followers in spite of great hardship. In the final days of the dwindling Roman Empire, the early Christians stood out from the lavish and indulgent Romans. Marked by humility, service, compassion, charity, and grace, these early bearers of the faith stood strong despite being vastly outnumbered, powerless, and vulnerable. 

While all of these books are a part of the Christian tradition and have important significance to believers, they are also books that are essential to understanding our cultural heritage. Living in Europe has given me a greater appreciation for the fact that the history of western culture cannot be divorced from the history of Christianity. This holy week I will be able to take part in traditions that stretch back hundreds of years, events that have shaped people's understanding of their faith and therefore influenced the cultural traditions they were forming.

What sorts of traditions do you observe? Do you have recommendations for Holy Week reading? I would love to hear about them!