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Lyrics and Life

By Caitlin Ward

 

03/08/2017
I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
The Beatles

I don’t want to spoil the party so I’ll go
I would hate my disappointment to show
There’s nothing for me here so I will disappear
If she turns up while I’m gone please let me know
I’ve had a drink or two and I don’t care,
There’s no fun in what I do if she’s not there
I wonder what went wrong I’ve waited far too long
I think I’ll take a walk and look for her
Though tonight she’s made me sad
I still love her
If I find her I’ll be glad
I still love her
I don’t want to spoil the party so I’ll go
I would hate my disappointment to show
There’s nothing for me here so I will disappear
If she turns up while I’m gone please let me know
Though tonight she’s made me sad
I still love her
If I find her I’ll be glad
I still love her
I’ve had a drink or two and I don’t care
There’s no fun in what I do if she’s not there
I wonder what went wrong I’ve waited far too long
I think I’ll take a walk and look for her

I’ve had two songs in my head this past week: that “Ashes” song from the CBW, and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” from Beatles for Sale. The first makes a certain amount of sense: Lent is upon us. The second one, perhaps not so much — or at least, not the bulk of it. The part that’s been going through my head is the first line: “I don’t want to spoil the party so I’ll go.”

John Lennon is talking about a relationship on the rocks, of course, but that line seems a good jumping off point for Lent in a couple of ways. I’ve been thinking about being inconvenient. Not in the sense that I am going to start going out of my way to make people’s lives difficult, of course. Rather, I’ve been thinking about how certain kinds of decisions and certain kinds of convictions often lead to becoming quite inconvenient.

It’s something that comes up more often and for more people at Lent, I think. It’s a time of ritual fasting, and for many of us it’s a time of ritual fasting in situations where the idea of ritual fasting is not necessarily understood. It can be hard to explain why you have that stuff on your forehead, or why you’re eating tuna in the lunch room when it makes everything smell like that, or why you’re not having a drink with everyone else, or why you’re . . . or why you’re . . . or why you’re . . .

It’s once you start doing something vaguely out of the ordinary that you realize just how curious people are. Or nosy, I suppose, depending upon your politics. Or how irritable you are in that moment, because you gave up coffee three days previously.

Now, the readings for Ash Wednesday service tend to revolve around not letting people know you are fasting, doing penance, or performing good works. The first reading this year cautioned to “rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). The Gospel reminded us to “take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them” (Mt 6:1). You know — like a hypocrite in the street. Off-hand, I couldn’t tell you if it comes up a lot in Scripture or it’s just stuck with me throughout the years, but I’ve always been under the impression that being a hypocrite is literally the worst thing you can be in the Gospels. Especially if you’re in the street.

So no one wants to be like the hypocrite in the street. Or, at least, Jesus doesn’t want you to be like the hypocrite in the street, and we kind of value his opinion, so best to avoid it.

And this is where the idea of being inconvenient comes in. If you’re not eating certain things, or going certain places for the duration of Lent, it’s kind of hard not to mention what you’re (not) doing and why you’re (not) doing it. And then you might get a little neurotic about being like the hypocrite. In the street.

In recent years, I’ve noticed a fair amount of talk about how we’re possibly doing Lent wrong: that giving up material things is not necessarily in the spirit of the season, that Lent isn’t supposed to count as religious New Year’s, that it can easily turn into a kind of spiritual one-upmanship. This year I read one article that said we should think more about trying to give up something that stands in between us and our relationship with God, as opposed to choosing to give up something like coffee or chocolate or beer or Netflix.

I can see the rationale behind that line of reasoning, but I’ve got the feeling that these are the same people who say Christmas is too commercialized and we should stop giving presents to each other. And I don’t hold with those people. It lacks nuance.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to be closer to God, because obviously that’s a thing. But I don’t like the idea that giving up material things is missing the point. Because no, we don’t want to be hypocrites in the street. But Catholicism is a very physical faith, and at base, participating in the church is an act of community. It’s difficult to be the inconvenient person who is not eating meat, or is eating tuna, or refuses the birthday cake. It’s even more difficult to be that person and explain it in a way that doesn’t exalt your attempts at piety, or come off as judgment, or read as complaint. It’s also difficult not to eat meat for 40 days, or eat tuna instead of chicken on Wednesdays and Fridays, or refuse the birthday cake.

And I kind of feel as if each one of those difficulties is part of the point. It’s not necessarily that it’s a hideously difficult sacrifice, or that it’s an act of intense spiritual and mental discipline. It’s a moment — or a series of moments — bringing you back to what you’re giving up and why, and living that with humility and kindness. In a certain sense, it’s a physical prayer. And as members of our community choose their own small sacrifices for the lenten season, it becomes a conversation about what we value, what is difficult for us, and how we acknowledge our religion and our faith in our day-to-day lives. Sometimes, I suppose, it might spoil the party. But Easter’s coming, and we get to eat all the cake on that day. And that, again, is the point.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings