Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ashes to Ashes

“Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return” – Genesis 3:19

Each year there seems to be fewer and fewer people getting their ashes on Ash Wednesday.

When I was growing up, everybody and his brother made sure to get the black cross put on their forehead.

Of course, I went to Catholic school and going without ashes back then was kind of like wearing bowling shoes to Sunday mass.

I was going to skip it this year myself. I’m hardly in the running for the Christian of the Year Award, if there is one, and I feel kind of weird walking around all day with this blotch on my forehead.

But I wanted to keep up the tradition, since I was raised a Roman Catholic, after all--even though I am now going to an Episcopalian church. And the idea of being self-conscious convinced me that I should go ahead and get the ashes. If people want to give me weird looks, they’re more than welcome.

I also felt like I’m honoring my mother, who wanted us to observe the Christian traditions. I made sure not to eat meat today for that reason as well.

Rev. Mark at Trinity Church took care of me this morning and when I got to the office I saw some ashes had gotten on my nose. I washed those off, hoping that I wasn’t condemning myself to eternal damnation. (I was raised a Roman Catholic, after all.)

I quickly saw that I was the only person on my floor with ashes. On the way out, I spotted one of the maintenance guys in the lobby with the ashes, which I felt put me in pretty good company. A few hours later my doctor surprised me at an afternoon appointment when he walked in with the cross on his head.

“We’re one of the few people doing this,” I said.

"Yeah,” he said, “but then there are fewer priests.”

One of my co-workers caught me off guard today when he asked me what I was giving up for Lent, which kicks off today.

I had no answer for that one. I was so preoccupied with actually getting the ashes and keeping away from meat that the business about giving something up for Lent had slipped my mind.

During the day I kept forgetting about the ashes, so every time I went into the men’s room, I did a double-take at my reflection and thought “what the hell--?”

That happened one last time at the end of the day, while I was washing my hands at the sink. I was mad at someone, as usual, and I was thinking how I’d like to give this person an especially nasty piece of my mind.

Then I looked up and saw that cross of ashes, a reminder that I’m going to die some day. My hostile emotions subsided and I thought maybe I could give the anger up for Lent; it would be quite a sacrifice since I seem to be so comfortable with it.

Perhaps we should wear these ashes on our foreheads every day of the year instead of just one. This may sound morbid, but it can also be a celebration of life, depending upon how you look at it.

Maybe each morning we should mark ourselves in this way so that we’re constantly aware that life is finite, that the young will grow old, the old will pass away, and that getting angry only wastes the little time we have on this earth.

2 comments:

Brenda from Flatbush said...

Have a good Lent. Glad the Episcopalians are still at it, too. I love the ashes, and as a work-at-home, I miss being able to swan around the office with them and freak people out. This year, per your anger-related thoughts, I seemed to hear the following instruction on Ash Wed. after Mass: "Tear up the scorecard." Just like that. [uncanny shudder, since I have been stewing in petty envious aggrieved wrath lately...]

Rob K said...

"Tear up the scorecard"

Brilliant!!! And a happy Lent to you...if that's possible.