Living Spiritually Equals Giving Up Something Meaningful for Lent

By Eugene C. Scott

My world is the opposite of Paul Simon’s poetic world in his famous song “Sound of Silence,”

“Fools, . . . you do not know

Silence like a cancer grows.”

Like you, I navigate a sound filled, often noisy, world. Airplanes, cars, horns, radios, televisions, iPods, and worse are ubiquitous. The cancer in my world is noise. Maybe that’s why silence unnerves me. Moments of silence are rare, longer interludes downright scarce. I’m not sure what to do with silence. Paul Simon had a point. One never knows what will grow unbidden from silence.

Silence  Grows Accidentally

Like last Thursday morning. On my way to a meeting, I turned off my truck radio during a noisy, irritating commercial and in the ensuing accidental silence discovered something. There’s a lot going on–in and around us–that extraneous noise covers. In the first moments of this accidental silence, I began to listen to some of those things.

Silence Grows Old Memories and New Insights

The thump-a-thump-a-thump-a-thump-a of the seams in the concrete road beneath the tires of my truck struck a chord in me and, as if I had switched on an internal radio, I heard the rhythm of riding in my parents’ old Plymouth through Trinidad, Colorado, a small town with streets paved with bricks. The patter beneath our Plymouth that day told me a story. I remembered imagining workers, dressed in faded over-alls, sweat streaming down their tanned faces, laying paving bricks. Then I pictured carriages drawn by horses bumping over the newly laid bricks. History, though imagined, sprang to life for me.

The brick streets of Trinidad

As I drove radio-less to my meeting that Thursday morning, history sprang to life again, remembering my parents’ native home town, my family,  whole and together, as I had not seen them in years. Then suddenly it dawned on me. I have long been a story teller, even if it’s a story told only in my own head. That silence confirmed who I am today. I realized this love of story that so possesses me now, lived in me back then. And here I was doing it again, retelling myself the story of being packed in that old car, traveling to my grandparents’ house.

That accidental silence allowed me to relive a very sweet memory and add interpretation to it. The noise of my life amplified and symbolized by my radio would have blocked both the memory and the insight silence provided.

Silence Grows Uncomfortable

Despite that I had numerous meetings and several errands to run, I decided to spend the entire day with the radio off. I listened. A delivery truck next to me rattled and rumbled as it started from the light. Cars zipped by. My key chain swung and clicked against the steering column. I sat at the next light and waited in an uncomfortable silence. Bored and without thinking, I reached for the radio power button. It had been maybe five minutes since I swore off noise. But I caught myself.

The rest of the day repeated this pattern: reaching for the radio, stopping, impatiently waiting for another memory or insight to make the silence worth it. None came.

Why am I doing this? I thought in a moment of dead silence.

Because Living Spiritually is about listening. And you can’t listen with all that noise filling your head, I answered.

And having a conversation with yourself is better how? I countered.

I had no one to distract me from my foibles and insecurities. I realized it’s much easier to listen to Rush Limbaugh blame politicians for my life rather than face myself. This may be what Paul Simon referred to in his song. Silence may not grow like cancer but it grows uncomfortable.

Silence Grows Deep

Sometime during the day, however, I became aware that I was noticing people, wondering who they were, what loads they carried, what their stories were. I remembered friends who had once lived in the part of the city I was driving through. I prayed for these people as they came to mind. I recorded several story-lines for my novel on my iPhone at stop lights. Future blog ideas formed. My mind filled up. The boredom I had previously fought off with radio noise disappeared. I was enjoying thinking and interacting with my world. I found my mind racing through a world of ideas and wonders. In that once accidental silence, I had become deeply and fully present to myself and my world.

Silence Grows Longer and Purposeful

I didn’t grow up in religious circles. So I was oblivious to religious holidays beyond the ones that had secular spokesmen like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But even after Jesus found me lost and alone sitting under a pine tree, the lesser holidays such as Lent rarely registered. Though I do remember a high school girlfriend who gave up coffee for Lent. I teased her and have never to this day given anything up for Lent.

That changed that Thursday of my accidental silence. By the end of the day, the idea of a longer silence had grown on me. I had become comfortable in it.

For Lent, why not give up extraneous noise and add purposeful silence? I asked myself silently.

I still think giving up coffee or chocolate or not wearing socks or not using your garage door opener for Lent is stupid. But I could come up with no good counter argument for this idea.

Today begins the holy season of Lent, a six week period of personal and congregational preparation for Christians to remember the sacrifice and new life Christ offers through it. As part of my experiment in living spiritually, I decided to participate in Lent for the first time by eliminating extraneous noise–radio and television. I am not just shutting off radio and television, however. I am adding, making room for, a purposeful, uncomfortable, deep, long silence.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll hear something that will do more than mollify me, but change me. Maybe God will even speak in some way.

As a talker, Eugene C. Scott admires people who keep silent. Fortunately, since he is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church, people expect him to talk. And he’d love to hear how you plan to observe Lent or how you are faring with your spiritual living. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the Facebook page.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Living Spiritually Equals Giving Up Something Meaningful for Lent

  1. Georgie-ann

    (-:

    I agree with all of the above,…and I predict that there is also a “silent” place (a “sweet spot”) within that is absolutely “full of God,” that you will get to like also! He knows us better than we know our own selves! And though there is a time and a place for the radio,…as an everpresent and unconscious habit, it is usually drowning out some of these more special personal and unique thoughts and voices that live within us — and that ARE us. Shouldn’t we value “life spent with ourselves” more than life spent with a radio? Aren’t we worth it?

    God doesn’t make junk, ya know!

    • Georgie-ann: I’m hoping in these weeks of relative silence I do hear his voice more. I often romanticize the days where travel was slower. To get to town from the farm was a long trip with lots of time to think. But we can do the same. We just have less natural times to do it. I like that “life spent within ourselves.”

      Thanks for reading my stories. I love to read stories too–and obviously, tell them. Eugene

  2. Georgie-ann

    (btw, Oogene,…I like reading the stories you tell!)

    (-:

  3. Krista

    As a mother of three, I love and crave the silence, and notice it so much more when there are no children in the car with me! Just last week, my daughter “J” had a sleep-over. Driving to church, my oldest boy said, Boy, is it ever quiet when “J” isn’t in the car! I had to laugh. Thank you, Eugene, for pointing out the true reason for listening to the silence – communing with God and about Him.

  4. Pingback: What We Can Learn From Harry Chapin About Making Room For God | The Neighborhood Café

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