Some weeks, finding something to write about is not always easy for me. Some weeks, I can think of all kinds of themes to focus on and then when I get to Saturday morning, my writing time, those themes that I have thought about all week no longer feel right. This week has been one of those weeks where a myriad of themes has popped in my head, but at the moment these themes don’t seem quite right.
What I keep coming back to over and over again during this writing time are two ideas. One, this is Lent, a liturgical season of the year to “empty” ourselves so that we may be filled with the love, mercy, goodness, and grace of God. It is a time of the year when we focus on repentance—our sins and shortcomings—and turn our lives back to God, who offers us grace and mercy through Christ death and resurrection. And two, our world is so noisy that it is almost impossible to really find the quiet time to really focus on repentance and turning our lives back to the One who loves us so completely, in spite of our sins and shortcomings.
So, many times we begin Lent with the best intentions. We think about things that we can give up, hoping that denying ourselves chocolate or soda or whatever might remind us of the suffering of Christ on our behalf. But is there really anything that we can give up or deny ourselves that would even bring us close to the understanding that Christ suffered on our behalf? I am really not certain that there is.
For the most part, my life is surrounded by good things. I have enough to eat, a place to live, a great community that cares about those who struggle. When I try to think of something to give up for Lent, I am bombarded by many choices. Having many choices about what to give up for Lent means that I am privileged in many ways. If I give up one thing to bring myself closer to the suffering Christ I find that there are so many other privileges and conveniences to take its place. I am reminded that my youngest child decided to give up McDonald’s for Lent one year, only to try and substitute another fast food restaurant in its place. By giving up McDonald’s he was adhering to the notion of giving something up, but it was not a sacrifice when there was something else to substitute in its place. That was a Lent of difficult learning for my son.
What can we truly give up that brings us close to the suffering of Christ? That is a tough question to answer. What Lent requires of us is to make room in our lives for a more concerted effort to feel the weight of Christ’s suffering on our behalf, the weight of our own shortcomings that keep us from feeling the profound love and mercy that is offered to us freely. If there is something in our lives that we can give up that puts in that place of suffering, keeping our eyes focused on the suffering of Christ, then so be it, but if we give up something that is merely an inconvenience or a nuisance that really doesn’t cause us to suffer, then we need to rethink this practice.
I thought long and hard about giving something up for Lent this year, but I couldn’t really find anything in my life that would be more than an inconvenience. What I really want to do, for Lent, is to bring myself deeper into the presence of Christ, but what I am finding is that the noise from the world filters through to my quiet places where I can easily find Christ.
I am a person of silence. I need silence each day to put myself into the presence of God and to renew myself in God’s love and grace. I have always been this way. I attribute this need for silence to my Quaker ancestors, numerous on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family. Quakers are known for sitting in silence during their times of worship, speaking only when they feel the stirring of the Spirit within. I have attended Quaker services where no one spoke at all and these are some of the most powerful worship experiences.
But this year, I am having difficulties filtering out the noise of the world from coming into my Lenten silence. There is so much noise, voices and ideas that need attention, that demand attention. There are voices that claim that only they are right, voices that try to shout over others so they can be heard. Division and hurt are coming out of these voices, fear and anguish too. And in my times of Lenten silence I am wondering if Jesus “heard” the same kinds of voices and noise as he spent forty days in the wilderness.
Even though the noise filters through I still seek Lenten solace, Lenten forgiveness in the silence of my life because if I settle myself to wait for the silence, the noise of the world fades. Sometimes, however, waiting takes patience. A mere extra fifteen minutes of silence a day may not –probably won’t—be enough to bring me to the quiet Lenten solace I need to turn from the shortcomings and sins of my own life to the grace and mercy and peace that the suffering Christ offers me.
Thomas Kelly, a Quaker missionary, educator, speaker, writer, and scholar of the twentieth century addresses this seeking of solace when he wrote:
There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathing so.
The secular world of today values and cultivates one the first level, assured that there is where the real business of mankind (humanity) is done, and scorns, or smiles in tolerant amusement, at the cultivation of the second level—a luxury enterprise, a vestige of superstition, an occupation for special temperaments. But in a deeply religious culture men (humanity) know that the deep level of prayer and of divine attendance is the most important thing in the world. It is at this deep level that the real business of life is determined. (Thomas R. Kelly: A Testament of Devotion)
Kelly is right. It is so difficult to give up the noise and pace of the world in order to concentrate on the still, silence where the voice of God can be understood and found. Yet, always and especially during Lent, it is important for those who follow Christ to seek that quiet place within so that we can focus on living our lives in Christ’s love and mercy, so that we are more willing and able to offer that same love and mercy to those around us. Seeking and finding that quiet solace allows us to examine our own lives and where we sin and fall short, allowing us to confess our sins and receive forgiveness and I believe that quiet solace helps us to sift through the noise and clammerings of the world, embracing what is helpful for us to be faithful and letting the rest go.
May we all find solace in this Lenten season.
To God alone be glory!