Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I grew up with virtually no reference to Lent, let alone a practice of keeping it. It wasn't until college that I discovered that many Protestants kept Lent, too, although their practices didn't always have to do with literally fasting or about giving up meat; it was more about an individual choosing to fast from some aspect of life that gets in the way of time with God or attention toward God. Since getting in on the practice, I have had mixed experiences. One year I gave up complaining. I have hazy recollections of giving up TV one year, and all meat one year, and I believe sweets another. Last year I gave up my endless browsing of news and information sites. These fasts have had varying degrees of success in pointing me in the right direction during the 40 days preceding Easter, and I have had varying degrees of connection to the idea of Easter Sunday being the ultimate feast day, when everything within me is allowed to breathe again, and celebrate and exclaim in utter joy — when life returns. (Returning to complaining, for instance, isn't exactly in the spirit of Easter.)

I am sometimes not sure why I observe Lent at all then, if it is so tricky to participate fully and intentionally in. Some years I simply have not bothered. But mostly what keeps me in the game is the social expectation of it. Not in a bad way, like bowing to peer pressure, but in a good way, in that it's one time of the year in which it's socially acceptable in my church to ask one another how we're doing at connecting to God. You just don't go around asking on Sunday morning: How are your devotions going? Are you reading the Bible daily? What's your prayer life like? (We do ask these questions on weeknights in my small group, though, because I think they're desperately important questions.) But for the most part they're awkward questions to bring up, even within the church where the only reason we're there is because we're hungry for God. Lent is the one time of the year where I feel like I can be publicly hungry for God, openly hungry, and in communion with other people who are openly admitting hunger for God. It's the camaraderie of it that's somehow only visible and tangible to me during Lent.

In the spirit of camaraderie, then, I've decided for the first time to adopt someone else's goal for myself during Lent. Rachel was kind enough to post on her blog her own wrestlings with what to do for Lent, and I like where she ended up: taking time to listen to an album of music each day. (I am particularly enamored by the idea of not just doing denial, but going right to implementing a method of deeper connection to God. After all, the denial is supposed to just be the means of getting one's attention and making real your limitations outside of God's provision, with the result an increased fervency of prayer and awareness and cognizance of God in our lives. Lent needn't be a season of careful eggshell-stepping but of richness and vitality.)

The idea of listening to music intentionally dovetails nicely with the spiritual goal that I'm working on right now in small group: to listen more fully. My goal is more along the lines of conversational listening, but it makes sense that music could help me with the discipline as well. Music usually requires the kind of between-the-lines perception I want to practice, which is to say: not just taking in the information, but the hearing the tonal message, the emotional component, everything that is hidden. There is suffering, and joy, and confusion, and anger, and love just beyond the words in both music and in everyday conversation. Artists shade their meanings and human being conceal their fullness out of politeness, and I am struggling to devote enough of my attention in the moment to notice these hiddennesses.

When I shared my Lenten goal tonight at small group, one person lent (ha!) me a CD to listen to. I like that idea of hearing new music these six weeks. I will probably take one day to listen to the playlist on Courtney's blog, since she so kindly posts one, and I haven't listened to the new list post-Christmas. If you, dear readers, have suggestions or possibilities to share, leave them in the comments. I have a lot of neglected favorites I want to reacquaint myself with over the next month and a half, but I also welcome the chance to learn to listen by listening to music that others love.


  1. Your post makes me wish I had a habit of participating in Lent. It always seems to sneak up on me and by the time I realize that it is Ash Wednesday (or that it has just passed), I haven't put any thought into it and so don't feel ready to start (or end) something. Maybe next year...

    And I love, love, love music. I'm excited for you to really listen to all this music in the next weeks. I hope it will be a blessing to you.

    As far as recommendations, the list would be LONG. Off the top of my head, though, Late Tuesday's "Drowning Out Love" is one of my favorites. Also Sara Groves "Add to the Beauty." I have both if you want to borrow.