Yesterday was the day many traditions in the Christian faith refer to as Ash Wednesday. It’s the beginning of the period of Lent leads up to Easter. (Also the day before Shrove Thursday – or “Pancakes-For-Supper-Day” as it’s also known)
It’s called Ash Wednesday because in many churches there is a service in which ashes are used to mark a small cross on your forehead. (Some places use the palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday as the source of ashes )
The ashes are a reminder – ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We are mortal. Also, ashes are a symbol of repentance, contrition, sorrow. We mess up, and we admit that.
These kinds of outward, visible, public signs are very out of place in almost all post-modern western cultures. It’s super awkward. It’s weird looking. Ash Wednesday services are (obviously) on a weekday, so they’re in the evening. Meaning you can get ashes applied to your forehead, then return home and without having to interact with anyone and have that strange look cast at you. (Fun Fact: I remember one Ash Wednesday a pastor mixed his own ashes, with burnt hardwood, and water. Which creates Lye. Which is caustic. Which meant some people actually had a skin-burn-cross on their face which definitely lasted more than a few hours)
This year has been different for us for many reasons, but the single event that has dominated our thoughts, actions, prayers, feelings more than any other has without a doubt been the attack we suffered almost one year ago. I have previously written about how Maunday Thursday was unique last year as we had just tasted the bitter sting of personal, direct, intentional betrayal.
In many ways, the thought of giving up something for Lent feels almost moot. I tend to feel like we’ve already given up so much. We’ve lost so much. So many things, events, going places, seeing people, experiencing joyful, celebrations. So many are gone already.
Sure – I could give up chocolate or something like that I suppose. Not that there is much here – so that feels more like giving up something for the sake of giving up something. I’m tempted to get all meta and clever about it, and say for Lent I’m going to give up giving up things for Lent.
I think I need to (once again) give up on me.
Give up on the belief that I can get through things myself. That I can handle what’s thrown at me. I need to give up the false notion that I don’t need others. I need to give up the idol that I only need God when things are tough.
That’s probably not how this Lent-fast-thing is supposed to work – but I think this year, that’s where I am.