A few weeks into the new year, I check the liturgical calendar for Ash Wednesday’s date and begin pondering a focus for Lent. Though the Lenten season feels long and challenging, I’ve gradually come to love the season famous for “giving something up.”
Why do I love Lent, with its penitential preparation for Holy Week and Easter? Because embracing this time of spiritual discipline is helping me, little by little, to see the places where I’m still avoiding true freedom in Christ—the only path to the happiness Easter has secured.
Having experienced more than a few Lenten failures, I never feel quite “ready” for Lent, but I do feel hopeful of meeting Christ in a new way by taking my weaknesses to him. So with Ash Wednesday in sight, I ponder those weaknesses until I’m drawn to focus on one of them. I’m prayerfully hoping that every little discipline I undertake will free me a little more from my favorite attachment: the one I have to myself.
With the current contentious climate very much on my mind, I’ve chosen speech and silence as my Lenten focus.
I’m noticing more than ever the power of each for good and for ill. Kind words carry healing power; angry and judgmental ones destroy and divide, even when technically truthful. Silence can speak more powerfully than words, but it can also mask the cowardice that allows great opportunities to slip away.
In these intense days of divisive, destructive speech, many of my friends have shared a common desire for civil, respectful conversation. We feel passionately about the issues of the day, but when and how to speak, when and how to remain silent–these are things we want to understand better in order to live and love more freely.
So Lent beckons as a fresh opportunity to believe the promise that when we draw near to God, God draws near to us. Repentance has a downer of a reputation, but all it really means is to turn back to Love. Why am I still so afraid of that?
Probably because I know it’ll hurt to confront my selfish tendencies. How easily I deny the hurt happening already. Memories of the damage I’ve done hurt. The pain my words have inflicted still aches in the hearts of those I wounded. The barriers I’ve created by speaking the truth without love still stand. The absent good my words could have done still hinders those I was meant to love.
When I was a teenager my family nicknamed me “Babbling Brook.” I thought it endearing and cute. But as an adult, I’ve been brought to my knees by the havoc I’ve wreaked with my undisciplined tongue. My more reserved friends say they wish they had my way with words. I tell them I wish I could contain my words more frequently.
But I’ve also failed to speak when I should have. My silence has left good friends undefended and kept my sweet seeds of faith imprisoned in their husks.
Lent eases the path for me to come clean. So I hope to lean into my Wednesday ashes, repent (turn back) and believe the good news. I hope to draw nearer to God, and through him, to love both my neighbor and my enemy. This time, I want to do it by abstaining from contention, complaining and criticism. I want to listen more and take at least one breath before opening my mouth. I want to fast from speaking my every bubbling thought; I want to still the ever-babbling brook.
I’ll be considering wisdom from the Scriptures and the saints as well as the writers, musicians, comedians and the children whose wisdom or humor helps me better understand how and when, by grace, to use my words. And how and when, by grace, to keep my mouth closed.
Who doesn’t need such wisdom in this contentious time?
So here’s an invitation from a Babbling Brook: no matter how or even whether you are spiritually committed, I invite you to follow Sparrowfare for the 40 days of Lent to receive one short quote, reflection or video a day. Each post will offer an insight into the way we talk about each other, the way we talk to each other, about when to speak and when to remain silent.
If you’re in, follow Sparrowfare by subscribing to Reads & Other Seeds, Sparrowfare’s newsletter linking you to new posts. Share this post with someone you know who might want to join us in reflecting on speech and silence.
The first installment will appear on Ash Wednesday, but here’s a first installment from 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul’s great chapter on love:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
I hope Sparrowfare’s posts on speech and silence will bless your Lenten journey.
I hope you’ll accept this invitation from a Babbling Brook.
“I will boast of my weaknesses,” St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “so that Christ’s power may rest upon me.” Coming clean about my weaknesses and bringing them to Christ is my favorite way to enter Lent. See also Confessions of a Cannonball: An Invitation to Hunger for Humility.