Suffering and Silence

A wise facebook friend passed along an observation about the peculiar luxury that Western Protestants, in particular, have of being able to choose the kind of suffering they undergo during Lent, when so many people have no option but to suffer, and not just for forty days.

It was an apt and sobering reminder that any solidarity we have with Christ's suffering must also attend to the suffering of his beloved in the world today, especially the "least of these" who have no choice in their suffering.

And it made me a little chagrined to have chosen, and announced, a Lenten practice that seems on the face of it to contravene the spirit of the season. Listening to music hardly counts as suffering, unless it is the product of an under-rehearsed junior high band, and even then it is only the most trivial sort of suffering. Indeed, there are churches and religious communities who pare to the bone their use of music in worship during this time. So why am I taking up the very thing that this tradition counsels giving up for this time?

Since I already went into the reasons for this odd choice last year, I won't rehash it now. But I'll add one thing:

Music is, for me, a step in the direction of Silence.

The richly imagined demon mentor who narrates The Screwtape Letters contrasts Heaven, "the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence," with Hell, where "all has been occupied by Noise--Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile--Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end .... The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down."

It is my default practice to fill my world with Noise, mostly in the form of information. I get rather frustrated when I manage to leave the house without a charged-up mp3 player loaded with audiobooks and podcasts. And while I by no means want to suggest that public radio is diabolical, I believe that I sometimes use it to drown out the silence from which I could learn much more than what the Dow is doing today.

Observing real Silence during Lent would indeed be quite difficult for me -- less difficult, of course, than the real difficulties faced by so many -- and yet more difficult than I am prepared to take on this year. But Music offers another alternative to Noise, something to listen to, not something to fill a sonic vacuum.

I suspect that as I grow more familiar with music I may become more ready to live with silence.

And I hope that both music and silence will train me to better hear both the glory and the pain of the world.


Steve Lansingh said...

Hmm... and I'd resolved myself to join you in your quest this year. Well, nonetheless I am interested in a different sort of Lent this year and will pursue the experiment, luxury though it is. Day One: Rich Mullins, Songs.

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