Fenelon – A Guide Through Lent


John and I have been letting you in on a few of our letters, and we’ll do that for a tad longer. I’ve always been drawn to letters. They’re personal, they cut the fluff. This is part of the reason why a number of years ago I published a collection of letters that François Fenelon, the 16th century French pastor/priest, wrote in response to friend’s requests for spiritual guidance. Because it’s Lent and during these days some of us like something to ponder, a little help along the way, I wanted to offer Fenelon to you. A number of folks (seriously, I can count at least two) have said that these letters are sturdy guides for the Lenten season. The letters are short, direct – Fenelon wasn’t one to beat around the bush. I’ll leave you one excerpt, then if you like, you can pop over and snag it on Kindle (and there’s a free Kindle app for computers and phones if you don’t own the hardware) for $4.99 (cheap as beans).

Dear Friend, I beg you; don’t listen to that small voice, the self-voice. It can get crazy: the self-voice whispering in one ear and the God-voice (love) whispering in the other. The self-voice never stops; it constantly churns. The self-voice is brash, full of chaotic energy, and forever trying to force quick, impulsive decisions. This voice seduces us with its intoxicating charms and charisma. In truth, though, the self-voice is short-sighted and hot-headed.

The God-voice is simple, peaceful. It doesn’t offer lots of chatter. The God-voice typically uses only a few words, and God’s tone is mild and gentle…

My Pastor(s)

In 2005, I read Father Joe, Tony Hendra’s memoir of his encounters with “the man who saved [his] life.” The opening lines sets the table: How I met Father Joe. I was fourteen and having an affair with a married woman.

Obviously, Tony was a troubled youngster. One awkward (but ultimately fortunate) day, the husband walked in on his wife and Tony in each other’s arms. Concerned for Tony’s well-being, the husband contacted an English Benedictine abbey and connected Tony with Father Joe who, for the following decades, became Tony’s guide, spiritual father and friend.

I believe all of us, even those of us with far less memorable prompts than Tony, find ourselves in need of wise spiritual guides, friends who will listen to our stories, learn the contours of our heart and then help us to see the truth and help us to stay true to our path. This world is confusing. And wearying. We need help.

I have a good father who I talk with regularly. He counsels me on any major decision, and he listens in on many minor ones. My dad is a man of integrity. He is a gift.

I also have a pastor. He’s retired now and lives a good distance from me. We converse via letters. It’s a slow, leisurely conversation that happens across miles and months. It’s not so much his answers to my questions that I find life-giving (in fact, answer would be a bit generous – he’s sparse on specific advice); rather it is the patient, plodding reminders he offers, simple nods toward what is true and beautiful and worthy of my love and energy.


Several years ago, I found another wise, spiritual guide, another pastor of sorts: François Fénelon. Two friends introduced me to an old volume of letters passed between Fénelon and those he was guiding in faith, most of whom served in the debauched court of Louis XIV. These letters, old as they were, touch on precisely the themes I wanted to explore: fear, doubt, faith, hearing God, prayer, loneliness, friendship, community, boredom, relentless noise, suffering.

I was so taken by Fénelon’s gentle (but sharp) voice that I wanted others to hear these conversations. I wanted others to find a guide in Fénelon even if they hadn’t yet found their own flesh-and-blood pastor or Father Joe. So, I wrote a book, and Paraclete was kind enough to publish it. However, it never was made available digitally. I’m pleased to announce that now it is, on the Kindle and the Kindle app on ipad, etc.

For the next 8 days or so, it will be available for $2.99. Then the price will jump. You may download it, and if you find that you like it, I’d much appreciate it if you’d pass the word to your friends, small groups — or even irreligious friends curious about matters spiritual. There really is something here for most everyone. And as you might know in this crazy book world, if friends don’t help me out, my work is dead in the water.

Fenelon is Alive!

Well, sort of. My new book, Let God: The Transforming Wisdom of Francois Fenelon is out.

I am excited about this book because it is a collection of letters written by Fenelon to a number of friends, letters where he was answering their questions and offering them spiritual guidance for their life-journey. These letters connected with my own desire for wiser, elder, spiritual guides, and so I modernized them, wrote introductions to help us hear Fenelon’s wisdom in response to the sorts of questions we might ask today, and wrote an opening chapter encouraging us to recognize our need for spiritual guides in our life.

So, grab a copy. And, while you are at it — be sure to download a recent interview I’ve done talking about faith, life, and my first two books. Also, there is a special gift – two singles from one of my favorite indie artists, Tom Conlon.

I hope you like it.

peace / Winn