In many previous Lents, I’ve left the car radio dial alone. cd player too. It’s an offshoot of my longtime practice of heading home from retreat in a silent car. This year, too, but with an addition.
I’ve always been struck by the contrast between my nervous need to fill up a road trip with sound and the calm trek home after several days of quiet. Granted, there are times when you need a good driving song played loud and sung along to, like this one from the 70’s, or this one from the 80’s. That latter one came on the radio when I was driving I-90 between Buffalo and Erie on July 9th, 1988. My first car. My first move from the ancestral hometown–all my possessions in the backseat and trunk. A nice bright summer Saturday morning. A radio dial turned up. Figuring out how to “play” guitar on my steering wheel. Without weaving.
Today is the twentieth day of dialing it down. This Lent, I’ve found it fruitful to use that silent time, sometimes fidgety, to pray for others. For those of you who ask me to pray for you, I confess: I often forget. But I have a particular prayer I use these days to at least place a name in a context. I’m remembering far more often. Perhaps like those adventurous trips on the open road, I feel like filling my small car with sound. I can fill it with prayer these days, more readily with this opportunity.
What if instead of fasting on Lenten Fridays, I elected instead to pay extraordinary attention to God’s presence in my everyday life? In my kitchen, as I dice carrots for dinner; in my classroom, confronted by confused students.
Am I letting myself off too easy? I think not. As the people of Nazareth so dramatically demonstrated, it can require heroic attention to recognize the face of God when we see it every day.
Last Friday night, coming home from a party, my wife was driving us through Campustown. One apparently drunken student ignored safe traffic behavior and challenged two lanes of cars. We were at the head of one of those lanes. When presented with everyday opportunities outside the soundtrack of my life, I certainly try to pray these days. Even if it’s a little less alcohol consumption, and a little more prudence crossing the street on the way home at night.
Driving a car is something I do a lot. Picking up the young miss from an after-school activity, working some pastoral errand. All of those little pilgrimages are opportunities, just like chopping vegetables or when student conversations drift into my office. Maybe this is a practice I can adopt and maintain into Easter and beyond, not as an intrusion into silence, but as part of the journey into silence.