What to Do for Lent in Silicon Valley

February 25, 2012

What to do for Lent: Drive in silence

“What to do for Lent?” This was the question I asked myself as I drove to my Silicon Valley job on the morning of Ash Wednesday. The only thing I’d decided was to work through an email Lent devotional. But that wasn’t enough. I had a feeling God wanted to lead me somewhere else.

Giving up something for Lent is clichéd, but…

Asking “what to do for Lent?” is still a fairly new thing for me. I resist the idea of “giving up something for Lent” because it feels so cultural, even in a post-Christian context. At work, my friends (who are mostly atheist / agnostic / ehh, whatever) were jokingly asking each other, “Is that something you’re giving up for Lent?” I don’t see any spiritual seeking in it. It’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution, except with an end date.

I’m more drawn to the idea of doing something, rather than giving something up. But what if the two aren’t so different? What if giving something up for Lent isn’t pointless self-flagellation? What if it’s a journey to take with God? What if giving something up for Lent creates room to do something else?

That thought rang in my head as I continued my drive. Suddenly, I knew what to do for Lent this year…

What to do for Lent: Drive in silence

When I drive, I normally listen to the news, or to music. They help make the time go faster. But for now, my drives will now be silent, except for any noise I make myself: No NPR. No iTunes. No Pandora.

Maybe in Silicon Valley, Lent has more to do with slowing down.

Once while browsing a bookstore, I came across a beginner’s guide to meditation. Intrigued, I flipped through it. I was pleasantly surprised by what I read. “Meditation is the art of being with yourself.”

My not-so-quiet commutes would get me kicked out of a Zen monastery. But I’m practicing being with myself, in the presence of God:

  • Sometimes I’m silent.
  • Sometimes I pray aloud. I pray for my friends and coworkers, especially that they would experience how much God loves them. I pray about how to solve problems at work. I pray about anything that’s worrying me.
  • As I drive to work, I think about how to approach the day. Some of this processing is done aloud.
  • As I drive home from work, I consider what I learned and experienced that day.
  • As I approach home, I give thanks for my family.
  • Sometimes I sing. These are snatches of worship songs written by others. Sometimes, I just make stuff up in the moment to sing my own heart, my own prayers.
  • Sometimes I pray in tongues. If that sounds weird, try this on: I’m basically chanting to center myself in the reality of God.
  • Sometimes I’m silent again.

Silence is challenging in a world of noise. But consider this: sometimes, just breathing in & out is a victory (Ephesians 6:13).

What to do for Lent: Reduce numbing distractions

While driving, we often use news and music to make the time go faster. In other words, we use them to occupy ourselves. Their purpose is to numb us to the passing of time.

“How does this apply beyond driving?” I wondered. How many things do we use as distractions, just to numb ourselves? If we eliminate them (or even reduce them), we’re forced to spend more time with ourselves and others.

Maybe that’s where the real power of “giving something up for Lent” lies. Maybe in Silicon Valley, what to do for Lent has less to do with arbitrarily sacrificing something, and more to do with slowing down. Ask yourself:

  • Do I fear the clock?
  • Am I reluctant to be with myself without distractions?
  • Am I reluctant to be with others without distractions?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, this may be the invitation you need. Discover what you use as self-numbing distractions. Then hit the “off” switch. See how the silence creates room for something else. In the tension, discover what God is saying to you.

Did this resonate with you? What distractions do you use? What are you doing for Lent? Share in the comments below!

Photo by Robert S. Donovan (license)

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

15 responses to What to Do for Lent in Silicon Valley

  1. I, too, am new to lent (this is my first year to observe it), and did not want to buy into the cliched “giving up something .” My morning routine is to check email, Facebook,etc. Sometimes my Internet excursions preclude prayer time. So, for Lent, I am purposefully spending my usual morning “Internet time” in various forms of prayer (praying the hours, centering prayer, praying in tongues…) and reading Lenten devotionals. So, I’ve essentially “given up” my morning computer time, but my purpose is to deepen and enhance my relationship with God.
    I wholeheartedly agree with you that Lent has less to do with giving up chocolate and more about slowing down and centering myself on the reality of God.

    • Way to go, Martha! I like your list of “various forms of prayer.”

      And I had to laugh when you mentioned “giving up chocolate”! That’s a perfect example of what I mean by arbitrarily sacrifice and how shallow it is.

      Further up, and further in.

  2. Hi John

    I’m not a church goer as you know and hold no formal religion at all. I like the idea of Lent though as maybe originally it did make sense for eat different/less, generally run down the winter food stores before the new season. Well the stores would have been running down so made sense to cut down and keep going until the new harvest. Now I have given up chocolate, first for health reasons. Its a better alkaloid which in its natural state no animal would eat. In fact it can kill dogs and horses. We only eat it because its adulterated with fat and sugar. It contains pesticide residues and the so called health benefits are rather dubious it being a poison really plus the mineral content is more from the residues of fertiliser treatment. But a good reason to not eat it and protest is to shut down the manufacturers who have made themselves wealthy of the backs of child slave labour. Yes you heard that right. There are literally thousands of children who are trafficked each year in the Ivory coast of Africa to provide the free labour to this industry. The west largely is to blame as the families are poor and sell their children. Do see the following article (if you like I have a film documentary I can also post for you if your interested):http://www1.american.edu/ted/chocolate-slave.htm
    The only way to hit these companies who do know how their chocolate is produces is in their wallets sadly.
    I liked your comments, we should turn the tele off for a start off less noise and stop people from buying what they dont need. It would be good for the planet. Time to oneself is essential as ‘What is this world if we have no time to stop and stare.’ Nicky x

    • Nicky,

      Wouldn’t you know it… Just as I dismiss “giving up chocolate for Lent” as shallow and unspiritual, you provide reasons otherwise! The connection between chocolate and slavery is certainly something to give prayerful attention to.


      • Giving up chocolate as an issue of justice is a whole other ballgame, and might require a much deeper commitment than simply avoiding it for the forty days of Lent. This doesn’t change, but rather highlights, the shallowness of the typical Lenten “sacrifice” without the spiritual seeking or the commitment to justice.

  3. Thanks for this post, John. I like your question about silence. As someone dealing with a chronic illness and sleepless nights it can be a challenge to find God in the silence. I’m giving up Facebook for Lent and BOY do I miss it. It is inspiring me to pray more and desitre God more.

    • Helen,

      I opted not to give up Facebook for Lent, but it looks like a growing number of people are doing so each year. I’d have to put random Facebook clicking as way up there on the “numbing distractions” chart!

      Chronic illness is quite the cross to bear. But here’s a BBC News article on sleep you might find interesting: The myth of the eight-hour sleep

  4. Jon,
    1. What does your statement “sometimes, just breathing in & out is a victory” have to do with the verse Ephesians 6:13?
    2. How is your practice of silence in the car any different from Zen Buddhism? (And don’t give me the answer “I’m thinking of Jesus the whole time;” would a wife accept that answer from her cheating husband?)

    • Matthew,

      1. I picture Ephesians 6:13 quite visually, with the exhausted warrior still standing. Barely. Not looking very victorious. But breathing.

      2. Kay & I sometimes call ourselves “Zen Christians,” and we had a pastor who did the same. But the truth is, I’m an untrained wannabe. I did teach at my work about “Zen Coding,” only half-joking about the importance of “there is only now” as it pertains to software development.

      But I detect a measure of suspicion on your part. Is there something wrong with silence, or with practicing silence? You might have to argue with the Cistercian and Carthusian brothers about that one — though the argument would be entirely one-sided. 😉 (I would like to see the documentary “Into Great Silence” sometime.)

  5. I was hoping to find and attend the Stations of the Cross somewhere in Silicon Valley. Do you know of any? (Well done, rather than just ‘going through the motions’?)

    Also, I’m interested in learning about praying the hours, centering prayer, praying in tongues. Any recommendations on how to go about it? Books, etc.?

    Thanks. I was very pleased to find ‘What to do for Lent in Silicon Valley’. I am not alone, after all! : )

    • Elaine,
      You have great questions, and I’m afraid I’m short on answers. In years past, Vintage Faith Church in has done the Stations of the Cross as a non-traditional art installation in downtown Santa Cruz. But I see nothing about it this year.

      Can anyone else offer suggestions for how to learn various different forms of prayer?

      I’m glad I’m not alone!

  6. I have done the Lenten “Silent Driving” for some years now. At first it was hard. But once you “get into” it – the time seems to go by TOO FAST – and, this year, irregardless of Lent, I have forced myself to set cruise at “60 mph” on commute home to save fuel (has made an UNBELIEVABLE DIFFERENCE). Even driving at slower speeds I find myself wishing commute took longer- b/c the meditation, worship, thinking -sorting out, & YES>praying in tongues, just makes the time FLY BY.
    I came to your blog due to contemplating a Twitter account and more importantly-a “handle”. Thanks for your guidance. God Bless

    • Val, you’ve got years on me! Thanks for sharing.
      I’m curious, how much fuel do you save by going 60?

      Check out my entire Twitter category for more helpful tips. But I’m glad you didn’t stop there, and landed on this article.

  7. Elaine,

    A good book on centering prayer is “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening” by Cynthia Bourgeault. I first heard the term “praying the hours” on Rachel Held Evans’ blog. I googled it and found out that it relates to praying at specific times of day (morning, noon, evening, bedtime). I found such prayers in The Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal). Other types of prayer (mandalas–which I found to be wonderful!, meditations, walking the labyrinth, etc.) are briefly described in a book entitled “Your Faith, Your Life: An Invitation to the Episcopal Church” by Jenifer Gamber and Bill Lewellis. Praying in tongues I learned about many years ago when I began attending a charismatic church, but what first caught my attention was a book (very old now…) “They Speak With Other Tongues” by John Sherrill. You can find it and the others on http://www.used.addall.com.

    Many of these types of prayer cannot be done while driving in your car! LOL!

    Hope this helps some. It’s so good to know that none of us are alone!