“Sister, mother/And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,/Suffer me not to be separated/And let my cry come unto Thee.” –T.S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday”
When I was Associate Minister at Mira Vista UCC in El Cerrito, CA, our music minister introduced me to a concept called acoustic ecology. Instead of playing a postlude one Sunday, he invited us to listen closely to the sound of the spring morning all around us: birds singing, cars passing by, people talking in the street outside. I found it mesmerizing. We live in such a noisy world, and yet we seldom pay close attention to our sound environment – we’re too busy talking or singing along to the radio or brooding on the past or worrying about the future.
That year I decided to give up noise for Lent. For six weeks, when I walked anywhere, I wouldn’t put my headphones in as I usually do. Instead, I would pay close attention to my acoustic ecology. It totally changed the way I interacted with my environment, especially when I went for long hikes in the East Bay hills – a calming, centering practice that brought me right back to the present moment.
When we talk about Lent, the first that comes to mind is giving something up: sweets, coffee, our smartphones (how many of us could manage that one?). If we’re in a more theological frame of mind, we might say that Lent is a season of repentance. But what does it mean to repent? The Greek word translated as “repent” is metanoia, literally “a change of mind” or “a change of heart.” It carries the sense of turning away from something in order to turn toward something else.
I like to think of repentance as the practice of turning away from that which separates us from ourselves, one another, and God, and turning toward that which reconnects us. In that framework, we give things up for Lent in order to make room for something greater. That spring at Mira Vista, I gave up noise so I could encounter God more deeply and fully in nature. At our Lenten worship planning meeting, one person shared how they gave up iced tea one year, and whenever they found themselves craving their favorite drink, they would pray instead. (“I ended up praying a lot that year!”)
There are many things in our world that separate us: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, the many structural evils that keep all of God’s children from flourishing. This Lent, worship and programming at UCCW will invite us to reflection and “repentance” with music, silence, and contemplation. As we work and worship together, let us leave behind that which no longer serves us and make space for justice and truth, for kindness and communion, in a world that does its best to divide and conquer us.
QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK: What does Lent mean to you? What do you want to “turn away” from in this season? What do you want to “turn toward