Every Ash Wednesday the Book of Common Prayer invites us “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance.”
I take my cue on self-examination and repentance from a book that the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm wrote many years ago. He notes that in Hebrew the root of the verb to sin, “hata” means to miss, such as missing the right turn on a road. It implies wrong action. Similarly, the Hebrew word for repentance is “shuv.” It means to return. So the person who repents is the one who returns to the right road. He noted that there seems to be little or no implication of breast beating in the “shuv” experience. There is no self-castigation before God. Repentance can mean to change one’s way, to cease navigating missed turns and dead-end streets to get back on the road to a better relationship with God, which is the thoroughfare leading us to a more loving sense for one’s neighbors and to one’s self.
My Lenten discipline this year will be to treasure silence. Silence is a rare and precious thing, particularly when we realize that silence is not simply the absence of sound but is also the presence of that which sound ordinarily obscures. I want to develop the habit of absolute silence for 20 minutes every day in which I do nothing at all–no mental correspondence, no organizing, no list making–except to create a daily space both to seek and experience the presence of God.
If you have not determined what new habit you wish to develop to draw you closer to God, I invite you to join me in this practice. It can be done at any time of the day, although my friend, Tom Ward, once warned me against doing it before bedtime. He said that we would most likely fall asleep, and although sleep is silent, it is not the silence we seek. If at first the experience of silence seems strange, let’s not let that throw us for a loop. Let’s develop the habit and perhaps we will know with T.S Eliot that Christ is “The still point of the turning world.”