Give it up?

a personal reflection on the idea of a Lenten discipline


sh Wednesday, 8:55am, and I’ve already messed up one part of my personal Lenten discipline.  For several years now, one of the simple ways in which I have observed the season of Lent is to forego using my car radio and CD player.  I don’t know if you are like me, but the first thing I do after starting up the car is to turn on the radio, and this morning was no different.  I was heading off to an early morning breakfast gathering, and without thinking I switched on the radio to listen to the morning news.  I didn’t even get half-way down the block before it dawned on me, “It is Ash Wednesday… here we go.” Click.

It is always intrigues me that I so automatically fill the car with noise while I drive, and it is a bit telling that twice during my ten minute drive to breakfast I reached forward and almost turned that radio on.  Again.

And for the forty days from now until Easter Day – with the exception of the Sundays, of course, because they aren’t actually numbered amongst the forty days of Lent – I’ll drive in relative silence.  Each time I get in to the car, I will be reminded that I am in a very particular season, and on at least a few of those drives I’ll do some thinking about who I am and why I do some of the things I do so automatically and without reflection.  For me, it is a good piece of the seasonal discipline.

As I was driving back from my breakfast gathering, I began to think about this business of how I so often fill my  life with noise; about how I use the chatter of CBC radio to fill space, and about how I can let music – wonderful music – be little more than just background soundtrack.

So this year I’ve added another piece to my practice.  Every week I am going to take one of the CD’s from my collection that really deserves careful and intentional listening, and I’m going to sit with it and listen.  Not while I chop onions in the kitchen or go through e-mail or flip through a magazine… the goal will be to sit and to listen, from beginning to end.

You see, I’ve got some great music sitting there – music with real theological and spiritual grit – but so often when I put it on I don’t really attend to it.  It becomes like the car radio, in that it is just there, filling the space with sound.

So I’m thinking that over these six weeks, I’ll listen carefully and closely to these discs:

  • Oliver Schroer, Camino (Big Dog, 2006)
  • John Coltrane, A Love Supreme (Impulse! 1964)… and for good measure, I’ll have another go at trying to really listen to Coltrane’s far more challenging free jazz project Ascension (Impulse! 1965)
  • Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, Officium (ECM, 1994)
  • Arvo Part, Litany (ECM, 1995)
  • The Terence Blanchard Group (with spoken word pieces by Cornell West), Choices (Concord Jazz, 2009)
  • Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, performed by the Estonian Chamber Choir.

You see, part of what can be really valuable in Lent is to give something up and to be steadily reminded of being in a different season.  But the other side of this is to take on some extra practice for these days; something that slows you down or focuses your attention just a bit differently.

None of this should be taken as a “religious obligation”, in the sense that God needs us to prove something in order to earn some divine favour.  Rather, it is an opportunity to do some soul-searching and learning, and to wonder at the truth that we are already numbered amongst the beloved of God in spite of how easily we drop the ball (or automatically hit that radio button…).  And along the way during these days, we might actually grow up a little.

Jamie Howison

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