As a teacher, I’ve noticed something about my students. They are obsessed with the TV show Friends. With 16 million viewers per week, the show has a growing audience among those who weren’t even born during its primetime run between 1994 to 2004. What could today’s youth possibly find interesting about a sitcom in which people just sit around and talk to each other?
The draw of this show is its now-impossible premise. Six young Americans take time to hang out IRL (in real life) without cell phones, building bonds that last a lifetime. No texts interrupt their conversation. No one is engrossed in documenting his or her life on Instagram. They simply show up, sit on a couch, and spend time together.
Though the internet and smart phones connect us globally and foster learning in this information age, they also expose us to a lot of noise. We are constantly inundated with a deluge of notifications from emails, social media, and news feeds. We are wired and exhausted. We have no time to unplug and quiet the noise—with or without friends.
These stimuli aren’t going away; they are now a part of our everyday life. Sometimes, we try to tune them out—but it’s hard. Our modern culture and economy drive us to respond to noise, so stepping out for quiet may seem next to impossible.
Yet each liturgical year, we have an excuse to turn down the volume. On Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world enter into Lent, forty days of spiritual practices that mirror Jesus’ wilderness journey in preparation for his ministry (see Luke 4:1–13).
Lent is different from any other time in our church calendars. During Advent, we patiently await the Christ child’s coming with joy, hope, peace, and love. At Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. But Lent is the sacred time during which we purposefully cut back, limiting the noise as we move toward Holy Week, preparing for Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Many Christians “give up” something for Lent—typically something they cherish or spend a lot of time doing. This practice creates room in our daily lives to remember Jesus and his preparation for ministry as he fasted and prayed in the wilderness.
This year, during Lent, how might we limit the noise in favor of spiritual practice? Forty days seems like a long time to quiet the noise. Where do we even begin? Contemplation seems alien to our culture, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Jesus relied on God during his wilderness journey—even when Satan was at his loudest—and so can we.
Rev. J. Dana Trent, a graduate of Duke Divinity School, is a religion and humanities faculty member at Wake Technical Community College. The author of For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community, Dana loves naps with cats, vegetarian food, and teaching weight-lifting for the YMCA.
MARCH 11, 2018
NEXT DAY STRETCH
Calming the Noise
What’s the noisiest part of your life? Make a list of all the ways in which noise distracts you from spiritual practice and from living your most meaningful life. How might Lent allow you an opportunity to step away from the noise and to reconnect with God, yourself, and others? Commit to one hour of quiet practice per week during Lent. Put all your electronics away, and sit by yourself to read scripture, color a mandala, journal, or take deep breaths. Commit to second hour per week for intentional time with friends — IRL, without technology. Just show up, find a comfy place to sit, and spend time together. Discover how easy it is to appreciate the gifts all around you if you tune out the noise.