Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent is a forty day preparation for Easter, when many Christians, spiritually, walk the wilderness with Jesus and recommit themselves to being his apprentices. Many Christians remind themselves of their finitude and brokenness by submitting to the imposition of ashes on their foreheads.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.
It’s a very obvious sign of religious observance. But often, the readings for this day focus on how we should avoid doing our piety in public, at least with the wrong motivations. If we do the stuff in order to be seen and honoured, the adulation of the crowd will be all the reward we get. It always struck me as odd that the Church catholic would embody something so directly contrary to the words of our Master Journeyman, Jesus. Are we really supposed to let people notice that we’ve been to services that day, that we’ve piously recalled our finitude and brokenness?
A few years ago, a friend let me in on a secret:
Wipe your ashes. Before you go out in public.
For me, this solves the contradiction. And it’s a practice I recommend to other Christians, too. Consider this blog a Public Service Announcement (PSA) of sorts.
I didn’t grow up in Anglican or Roman Catholic circles, so I acknowledge that for some, wiping your ashes wouldn’t make sense. You don’t do the thing to draw attention; you do it because it’s part of your regular, un-self-conscious practice, like taking a moment to say grace before a public meal. That’s awesome. But for me, the temptation to be seen as part of a distinct and pious community (especially in a society like ours) is very strong.
So, I wipe my ashes.
Regardless of the practice you choose this day, I pray that we, choosing to get up off our ashes, will find renewed hope and strength in coming days, not only to acknowledge our finitude and brokenness, but also the incredible Story we have been given to inhabit because of Jesus.