About two years ago I spent four or five days in Glasgow, at Scotus College. I took part in a very interesting introductory course for foreign priests. There was just one, but serious flaw with the arrangements: the College is very close to the approach of Glasgow International Airport. Every day, from dawn to dusk, planes came to land right over our heads. The noise was tremendous. Once I went to the college office and spoke to a member of staff. When a plane flew over with a deafening noise I told her that it was just unbearable. But she replied: “What are you talking about?” She wasn’t aware of the noise! I’m absolutely sure: she wasn’t deaf! I think that many people living in Lossiemouth aren’t aware of the noise of the RAF aircraft.
Every creature has an ability to adapt to changing conditions. We, people, are not an exception. When a stimulus is not recognized as a threat to the body, the brain stops taking notice of it. In this way the brain can concentrate on detecting other possible threats. But if the stimulus becomes stronger, the brain starts to recognize it again. In this way a person can gradually become more accustomed to a stimulus, a noise, and stop reacting to it. This process sometimes can be very useful – like living next to an airport runway. But sometimes it can be destructive – like a person taking bigger and bigger doses of alcohol or drugs. The process I’ve mentioned here applies not only to the body, but happens on a spiritual level too.
Sometimes religious organisations are accused of exploiting people’s guilt. Some people think that way because religious moral teachings often speak about people’s imperfections, their inclinations to evil and sin. The Lenten season that we’ve just started would seem to be a proof of that belief, as we’re going to listen to various parts of the Bible speaking about our poor human state. The key point about Lent is its calling for repentance and self-denial. But Lent does not prohibit people from achieving their desires and expectations. It is rather about calming our minds, making them more gentle and sensitive. Imagine a professional piano or violin player working hard on a building site. His fingers, covered with hard skin wouldn’t be able to feel the instrument properly. Sensitive fingers give him the opportunity of playing at the highest level.
Lent is an invitation to calm our senses, to slow down the pace of our lives; to re-discover the joy of small and simple things. Lent may be like a visit to a spiritual spa resort. We can feel better, healthier, more dynamic and joyful. Not because somebody deprives us of something, but because we rediscover the joy of a simple, ordinary life.