Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sister Promise

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
--Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

I received Communion from Sister Promise today.

That’s what I saw on her nametag as she took the host from my hands, dunked into the chalice and put it in my mouth. Sister Promise.

I rather liked that name—it seems to be filled with hope and…promise.

I was in Trinity Church for my usual weekly service and to receive ashes. I was raised a Roman Catholic, but I’ve attending services at Trinity for over a year now.

I had to check the church’s web site to make sure the Episcopalians actually conducted Ash Wednesday services and when I found out they did, I started to get very anxious, wondering if I should get ashes at a Protestant church rather than a Catholic house of worship.

I reminded myself that I’d been taking communion at Trinity for quiet a while, so by the Vatican’s reckoning I probably was already well on my way to hell. A smudge of soot on my forehead wouldn’t make much of a difference at this stage.

And the Catholic Church never had anyone named Sister Promise. All the nuns I had when I went to school had men’s names for some reason and the only promise they held was that of a merciless beating if you didn’t toe the sanctified line.

As I went up to receive my ashes, I found myself thinking about how people often mock “pagan” religions and their strange customs, while never really looking hard in the mirror.

I’m sure people in some of these supposedly backward countries would wonder why people walking around Wall Street today had these black smudges on their heads. But I wore ashes proudly.

I needed to do something for my soul given the last week. While I’m happy to report that my shower has been fixed, but the old washing machine has been sent to appliance Valhalla, which means I’m back to laundromat duty.

That’s survivable, but I have yet to solve the mystery of the bites—if that’s what they are-- that have been appearing on my body, so I’m going to a dermatologist next week and laying down more double side tape in hope of catching whatever the hell is after me.

The church was packed today, unlike most of the noontime masses, where there's just a handful of regulars.

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is one of the ones on the Christian calendar and it pulls in the crowds.

I had to sit several rows back from my usual spot and I was tempted to cop an attitude about all these Johnny-Come-Holies nudging me out of my favorite pew, but then I remembered that, yeah, this was a church where attitudes have no place.

The Gospel talked about doing good things without expecting reward or acclaim and putting material things behind us, as they can be taken away from us at any time.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others,” Jesus said in today’s reading, “in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in Heaven.”

The service was also longer than usual, with a choir and several priests in attendance.

Unfortunately, I was getting nervous about the time. I had attended a breakfast conference in the morning and now here I was taking what turned out to be a 90-minute lunch.

I know that my soul is more important than any job will ever be, but it’s hard not to be worried about your paycheck with the economy so deep in a recession.

However Ash Wednesday reminds us that we will only be here a short time—“ashes to ashes,” right? So often, though, I focus on the short-term, while the important things in my life slip by.

I try to keep these things in mind, but I got back to the office today and some fellow in the next row of cubicles began coughing, and coughing, and coughing—something a hypochondriac like me really doesn’t appreciate.

I don’t know what’s wrong with the guy, but if he doesn’t go to the doctor immediately I’m going to choke the life out of him. And there I go—instead of being concerned about this poor man, I’m more worried about myself.

I’ve been thinking about more about time and the brevity of life lately. I’ll be 52 in May—Good God--and both my parents are gone, something that I still find hard to believe.

But mordidly pondering the end only brings you there quicker and while Ash Wednesday reminds us of death, it also gives a chance to celebrate life.

I think that’s what we all should be doing. And I know Sister Promise would agree.

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