The following is adapted from the author’s book,“ Emptied Out: A Personal Journey Through Lent,” and is reprinted with permission. 

Years ago, I attended the Brevard Music Center’s Summer Music Camp for high school and college students. I was in high school and was planning a career as an orchestral trombonist. Every Saturday, we would travel into the town of Brevard to do laundry and walk around. If we really wanted to splurge, we would catch a movie at the “Co-Ed Theater” where there was usually only one movie playing at a time, the seats were torn, and your shoes stuck to the floor by residue from only God knows what. 

Also in town, there was a charming little music store. Being a rural mountain town, the selection of instruments was limited – guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, drums, and a few other odds and ends. What I remember most, however, is the Native American flutes. They were handmade out of cedar and had the most amazingly sweet tone I had ever heard. Way out of my limited teenage price range, I vowed to come back one day and to purchase one of my own. 

Years later, my wife and I were back in Western North Carolina and found our way to Brevard. After giving her the nickel tour, we made our way to the music store and discovered that they had a couple of flutes in stock. I fulfilled my teenage vow and began a minor obsession with Native American flutes. There’s just something about that sound that soothes my soul and speaks to me at a deep spiritual level. 

Not too long ago, I came across the following post on the internet. It was then that this love of flutes collided with my understanding of Lent: 

“‘What’s the difference between a flute and a stick in the mud? ’our priest asked on Sunday. He then went on, ‘The stick in the mud is full of itself. The flute has been emptied of itself so that it can make music.’” 

Lent is a time of emptying ourselves. The theological term is “kenosis.” Just as Jesus emptied himself (Philippians 2:7), we are called to empty ourselves. It is a time to remove the obstacles that keep God’s Spirit from flowing freely through our lives. It is a time to place our lives as instruments into the capable hands of God, moving and swaying to the rhythms of grace. It is a time to be emptied of self and filled with the music of all creation. 

With John the Baptist, Lent is a time for us to recognize that Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. I need this time and this regular yearly rhythm to reorient my heart away from my narcissistic tendencies. Like John, I need to learn to play second fiddle in this orchestra. Like John, I need to be reminded that I don’t get top billing on this play. Like John, I need to wake up to the fact that I am not a soloist but a chorus member in God’s song of creation.

Rev. Steven Norris