I have more concrete memories as a child observing Advent than I do of Lent. When I think about Advent, I remember Wednesday nights spent in one of the classrooms at the church, first eating a potluck meal, and then working on an Advent-themed arts and craft project with my family. I remember creating our Advent calendars and Advent wreaths at these evening get togethers. Advent was about waiting, but it was imbued with a sense of excitement, and in the midst of the waiting, there was lots of beauty to be created and discovered.
Lent didn’t have that same feel. Lent was solemnity, sacrifice, and repentance, attributes not particularly interesting to a child. Giving up ice cream for six weeks didn’t have quite the appeal as getting a small piece of candy every third day as we counted down the days until Christmas. Focusing on what I could give up was never as fun as focusing on what I would be getting. To be honest, it still isn’t.
But as I aged, and presumably matured, I began to appreciate Lent. There was something about the gravity of the season that began to resonate with me. Taking time to slow down and reflect on areas in my life needing repentance became a task with engaging in. Looking for quiet in the midst of the noise became a worthwhile pursuit.
This was particularly evident one year during college when I was playing piano at the Newman Center, the Catholic outreach on college campuses. The priest asked the musicians to suspend the use of instruments for the duration of Lent. He wanted us to focus on the words we were singing and felt that changing up the way we used music during Lent might help with that.
Each Sunday during that Lenten season we would gather in the campus church, our voices providing the only music. We had no instruments to fall back on, no support from guitar or piano, we only had the music of one another. During those weeks, we were exposed. We were vulnerable.
As the weeks passed, tentative voices became more bold. Harmonies that before might have clashed with what the instruments were playing were explored. As a congregation, we found that our collective voices were a beautiful instrument. Without relying on what we had previously used, there was a greater focus on the lyrics being sung.
There was still solemnity. There was still sacrifice. There was still a sense that we were waiting for resurrection. But in the midst of that, we found beauty. And we found it not in the accompaniment, but in one another.
Lent has fallen by the wayside for me in the past few years. So much of my life felt like it has been spent mourning that it has been hard to add another season of intentional darkness. I spent a full year wondering if I had truly repented, and then untold time spent second-guessing my conclusion. Making that my focus for six weeks seemed like torture, rather than a beneficial spiritual practice.
This year it feels different. I’m in a church that observes the liturgical calendar again, so Lent will be at least a small part of my worship experience. More than that, however, I’m beginning, once again, to see the beauty inherent in the dark times. And once again, I’m finding beauty in the support from those around me. Finding that as we join our voices together, it brings more light, it brings more joy, it brings more loveliness.
As I strip away some of the noise and reflect, I begin to find beauty.
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