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Lent Reminds Me of Practicing Scales: A Reflection on Fundamentals

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, we've just hit the fourth week of Lent, which generally tends to mean either one of two things:

1. We're doing well with our Lenten disciplines and they're beginning to feel like second nature.

2. Our Lenten disciplines are beginning to feel tedious and we're ready to be done. Bring on Easter, am I right?!

I think it's a fair guess to say that the majority of us fall into #2. There's no shame in that – we're all battling our fallen natures, and the spiritual life can feel tedious at times. That's the effects of original sin at play. Holiness isn't always going to feel exciting in a thrilling, adrenaline-rush kind of way. It's not always going to feel exciting in the sense of the start of a new romance, or the performance opportunity of a lifetime.

Holiness is built, first and foremost, on a relationship with Christ. But how holiness comes about occurs primarily in how we choose to respond to the little choices, occurrences, and circumstances that we encounter daily in our lives. It's through practicing the fundamentals of Christian life that we become holy: through prayer, through growing in virtue, through receiving the sacraments. And when we fall off in our practices (which God knows will happen, and the Church in Her wisdom sees), Lent is a time, year after year, in which we can renew our practice of the fundamentals of our faith.

It reminds me a lot of practicing scales.

A woman playing the violin

Scales are a fundamental skill for playing an instrument. There's a reason that pretty much every music teacher will encourage their students to practice their scales regularly: it helps tremendously in developing an ease and facility for playing! And yet, scales can feel remarkably tedious. There was a popular TikTok/Instagram Reel audio awhile back where someone sang: "Can we skip to the good part?" I think it's safe to say that many musicians think this when practicing fundamentals, such as scales.

I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't the best at consistently practicing my scales until graduate school. How I got by without practicing them consistently until my masters program? I truly don't know. All I can think is that I must've been really good at the whole "fake it 'til you make it" idea.

My graduate flute professor did away with my inconsistent practicing of fundamentals pretty quickly, and honestly? Praise be to God that she did. Every day I was practicing from Trevor Wye's Practice Book for the Flute: Omnibus Edition – specifically all the scales, major and all three minors. At first, I actually really liked it. It felt good to dive into scales in such a structured manner. And then, not too long after, when the high of beginning something new faded, it grew old. It grew stale. It grew mind-numbingly tedious.

At the beginning of Lent, it can feel exciting to begin whatever spiritual disciplines we've taken on. "Look!" we might be tempted to say. "I've prayed the Litany of Humility two days in a row! I'm doing so well!" But after a week or two, it can begin to feel old. It can begin to feel stale. It can begin to feel mind-numbingly tedious.

Sound familiar? Lent and scales are not so very different from each other.

How, then, do we learn to love these things? How do we learn to embrace them instead of face them with a sense of apathy?

I believe the answer is to love them on their own terms.

Why do we practice scales? To clean up our technique and strengthen our abilities to play our instruments. Scales aren't just scales. They're also remedies to polishing our technique so we can play at our best.

Why do we take on spiritual disciplines during Lent? To allow the Lord to cleanse and renew our hearts so that we can grow in relationship with Him. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – our three pillars of Lenten practices – aren't just prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. They're remedies that God's given us to cleanse our hearts and sanctify our souls and our wills.

Lent and scales are truly not so very different from each other at all.

And what's even better is that, at the end of the day, scales don't just have to be about getting better at our instruments. We can also offer them up to God for His glory and for our own sanctification, because holiness happens in the daily, ordinary, and repetitive tasks.

Amen? Amen.


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