By John O'Brien, S.J.
No, this article has nothing to do with Simon and Garfunkel. But I can’t help recalling that memorable line from Alanis Morissette’s rather edgy 1995 song “What I Really Want.” The singer asks tauntingly: “Why are you so petrified of silence. Here can you handle this?” – and follows with a strange few seconds of complete … nothing. When she picks up again she sings, “Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines/Or when you think you’re gonna die/Or did you long for the next distraction?”
Ah yes, silence. The state we all long for but sometimes dread. The snatches or expanses of desert, where we can hear our hearts thump and our minds tick. Where we suddenly face the mystery of our own “being”, our contingency and mortality, and begin to ask the important questions we normally avoid in our regular, busy and noisy life.
Lent is, of course, a forty-day desert. But like the place where Christ went to pray and be tested, it is meant to be a place of growth. The only death in this desert is the death of selfish and sinful habits – which we can identify properly only if we have had sufficient space for reflection. There is no religion or spiritual path on this earth that does not involve some stage of purgation, and Lent is one of ours. But what of silence?