Lenten literature: 8 books to read in the desert

Lent is the time to renew your relationship with the Lord. Photo by Makenna Connors

As we prepare for the sacred adventure that is Lent, it is essential that we give Christ access to our imagination. The glory of Lent is meant to flood every aspect of our lives, including the books we read.

Below are some works of fiction that deal with the sin, repentance, suffering, and passion of Christ. Yes, I know you have already read a lot for your classes. But think of all the time you spend queuing at Cap Bar – maybe one of these books can join you.

Novels/Short stories

  1. “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy is such a master at portraying the human condition that I remember reading this at the age of sixteen sitting in my living room, chilled by my own mediocrity and selfishness. We will all meet the same fate as Ivan Ilyich – spoiler alert, he dies. This powerful work invites us to prepare for death and to remember that the light of the world is still waiting to flood our souls.

  1. “The Song on the Scaffold”, Gertrud von Le Fort

This short story tells the true story of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne who died at the guillotine during the Terror. Le Fort’s simple prose catches you off guard as it asks you to consider fear, anxiety and unfulfilled desires in light of Christ’s agony in the garden. Through vivid depictions of Carmelite tradition and the power of the crowd, “The Song on the Scaffold” asks the reader: Are you ready to die? Are you ready to live?

  1. “Leaf by Niggle”, JRR Tolkien

An eccentric but mediocre artist must abandon his painting when he is suddenly called on a strange journey. Tolkien’s unique illustration of Purgatory is a powerful self-examination that leaves the reader in awe of the Father’s readiness to grant our desires.


  1. “The Island of the World”, Michael D. O’Brien

Imagine the Core as a novel. Through the life of Josip Lasta, a boy born in the Balkans in the 1930s, O’Brien seeks to portray the entirety of Western tradition – and the entirety of human suffering.

God willing, none of us will ever suffer as much as Josip. But we have all experienced a deep pain that Christ yearns to penetrate and transform. This beautiful story was a catalyst for deeper prayer and an invitation to see my own wounds in a new light.

  1. “Father Elijah”, Michael D. O’Brien

This apocalyptic novel offers an independent combination of historical, mysterious and dystopian genres, all steeped in Carmelite and Franciscan spirituality. It sheds light on the evil at work today, but also reveals the tender and personal love of the Lord for every creature. When you have finished the game with Count Smokrev, take the time to hear the Lord say to you: “Hush, dziecko.” You will not regret it.

  1. “Perelandra”, CS Lewis

This is Lewis’ second novel in his space trilogy, but it can easily be read on its own. Ransom is a philologist, whose mission to Venus allows the reader to experience salvation history in a new and vivid way – with a pet dragon, just for fun.

This book has been central to how I view spiritual warfare, Holy Saturday, and my own beloved. Lewis pierces the darkness of discernment, the gift of vocation and the beauty of “the big dance”.

  1. “Brideshead Revisited”, Evelyn Waugh

Dripping with elegant and ironic prose, Waugh follows the life of Charles Ryder, from his studies at Oxford to the culmination of his relationship with the eccentric Catholic Marchmain family.

The novel doesn’t just make you want to don long earrings and sip Earl Gray tea – it serves as a powerful soul-searching as you watch and empathize with characters who are so desperately and desperately seeking happiness. The novel reveals that regardless of social status, sin, or the facades we hide behind, we have a Father who offers redemption even in our final hour.

  1. “A Pilgrim’s Path”, Anonymous

Eastern Orthodox Christianity holds a treasure of spirituality. This simple and compelling story of a homeless pilgrim illustrates the depth and accessibility of contemplative prayer. The beautiful story set in rural Ukraine, Russia and Siberia heightened my desire for the joy that comes from prayer, suffering and friendship with Jesus.


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