I only own about three outfits entirely composed of gradients of black and white. A couple pairs of work appropriate pants and some yoga pants. About a week’s worth of shirts and two or three sweaters. I tell you this, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of them over the next 40(ish) days if you run into me in person. As far as possible, I am fasting from colorful clothing in my wardrobe during Lent. It is proving to be much harder than I expected. Although I should’ve have known how often I reach for the bright, the patterned, and the eye-catching back in high school. A friend gave a group of us scarves her mother knitted for Christmas one year, and she picked out the neon orange one for me, “because it was the most obnoxious,” she told me, meaning it with nothing but absolute love. She gets me.
I’m not alone in this. True, my particular taste isn’t for everyone, but a lot of us like bright and happy. A Danish classmate in seminary tried to explain what it was exactly that threw him the most about American culture, and he struggled to find the words. “It’s just so much,” he told us. “Here it’s all noise, color, and shenanigans.” At the time I took that as a tremendous compliment, what with my limited volume control when excited and my penchant for the ridiculous. Shenanigans are one of my favorite hobbies, after all. But lately I think I’m beginning to understand how he meant it. And it is exhausting.
At every turn, there are opinions and big feelings and open air debates about everything from the presidential primaries to the Super Bowl halftime show. Everyone has their two cents and we’re all intent on throwing enough volume and emotion behind it to make it count for a full dollar. After a couple days in Honduras last month, I started to notice a difference in my surroundings that translated into my body as well. Lying in a hammock or even in sipping coffee hotel cafe, there was less noise. Not necessarily less communication, but less idle chatter and music or TV prattling on for the sole purpose of filling the silence. There was less talking just to talk. It wasn’t that it was silent, but it was more peaceful. My ears and my mind and my muscles could relax. I let down my guard and was able to soak in more than I do on a given day standing in the midst of the shouting back and forth across the room back home. I felt uncomfortable the whole plane ride home, once again surrounded by noisy Americans. My ears were so very, very tired.
I can’t find fault with others for this, because I recognize how often I contribute my own decibels to the mix. Not only that, but I tend to seek out the think pieces and challenging essays and bloggers who guide me out of my comfort zone and make me think about something beyond my experience. I like that place of discomfort. It’s an important space to occupy. But I can’t keep going there everyday. Fatigue is setting in and I can’t take the constant barrage of people telling me how to feel, what to think about current events, which incidents are revolutionary celebrations and which are problematic steps backwards. I can’t continue to sit happily down in the middle of all the noise, color, and shenanigans.
Lamentations claims there is a season for all things, and for this Lenten season I choose to surround myself with quiet. I know that the noise is essential. The disruptions are important to point out what is wrong and what can be made right. The emotions they stir up can be channeled into powerful, desperately needed change. I understand that quiet, then, is a luxury some cannot afford. But a total lack of quiet just as deadly as a silence that is never broken. It leads to burnout and cynicism, and I’ve been there, and I have no plans to return.
So in a spirit of preparation and renewal, I am fasting from noise, color, and shenanigans for all the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Now, I’m a children’s minister so a certain amount of shenanigans are just part of the job description, but dressing up and dancing and playing silly games with the kids are not the kind of shenanigans I mean. That kind of life-giving foolishness is always encouraged in my book. A fast from noise and shenanigans will look more like a refusal to engage in conversations about the latest bone-headed thing a politician has said or the most recent controversy about some celebrity. I will not go out of my way to listen to those things which I know will only serve to upset or depress me. I will not seek out “He/She said what?!” moments. This is a fast from negativity and reactivity, both of which have become far too much a part of my daily routine. And in my wardrobe, I am fasting from colors outside of the black to white spectrum as a physical reminder to quiet my poor overstimulated spirit.
I’m sure some will find fault with this whole philosophy, and that’s fine. I’ll be happy to listen to your complaints after Easter. But for now, I am giving up pessimism for Lent. I am embracing optimism. I believe the resurrection is coming and this year my eyes are steady fixed on the horizon. As we await the joyful shout of “He is Risen!”, I will be here quietly priming my heart to hear the still small voice of God.