Many people during Lent attempt to spend more time in silence, prayer, meditation. We all know it’s not easy. We all know the cliches about how loud our lives are, and how noisy our heads have become. I’m not a contemplative type of person at all, so when I try to be silent, every fiber of my being screams at me, “Do something!” I have to yell at my productivity gremlins for quite a while before I can settle in. And sometimes by then, I’m frustrated and not in the most prayerful kind of mood. Silence to me is like exercising: I highly value it, love it even, but I don’t always want to do it. I don’t wake up eager to be silent any more than I look forward to those grueling lunges. But both of them give me the same end result: I feel centered. I feel strong. I really value the feeling of being grounded and steady under my own two feet. So I do it, most days, even though I don’t always feel like it.
During Lent, I try to find more time for silence. This year I am trying to divert some of that space I’m freeing up by not reading white guys to time where I’m not reading anything at all. Being intentional about that time and not defaulting to the norm is squirrelly business. I’ve learned that my non-contemplative nature does better if I remember the “why;” if I focus on the larger intent of the action, it becomes purposeful, and I can concentrate more easily. I’ve been thinking about something Kathleen Norris wrote in The Cloister Walk. She taught art to elementary aged children, and she would have them alternate times being active and being silent. Then, she would ask them to write down their impressions of each. When a group of kids wrote about silence, Norris was particularly struck by one of the responses. She said, “In a tiny town in western North Dakota a little girl offered a gem of spiritual wisdom I find myself returning to when my life becomes too noisy and distractions overwhelm me: ‘Silence reminds me to take my soul with me wherever I go.'”
After I battle past the gremlins and arrive at that great place of silence, I feel the presence of my soul. That’s a word fraught with bad theology, but the way I express it is that place where I remember I am more than just my accomplished tasks, loved for that mysterious “just because,” enveloped in a peace that simply is and doesn’t have to be constructed or engineered. And I realize all those things because God is there, and I am actually paying attention to God’s presence in a full-bodied, all-hands-on-deck kind of way. You know, like elementary school kids do. That place is worth gold. It’s absolutely worth the mess of getting there, even if I still don’t like the getting there part.
Dear Lent, thank you for sending me a pearl of wisdom from not a seventy year old theologian but an elementary aged little girl. Lesson noted.