Spoken from a romantic, here’s the best date this Valentine’s Day
Too often we call rituals antiquated or meaningless before we give them a chance. And Ash Wednesday? Walking around with ashes on the forehead? That’s weird, right?
These ashes, and the ancient ritual itself, are weird — uncomfortable, different. They are supposed to be. They are also humbling, grounding. Ash Wednesday provides a location for us, a starting point for the season of Lent. The starting point is the recognition of sin in our lives.
Whoa. Now things got heavy.
Sin. That’s a three-letter word today and can be as unusual as someone posting unflattering selfies on Facebook. Yikes! We don’t see that. We don’t hear that.
“[Yet] the ritual [of Ash Wednesday] makes a lot of sense— even in modern secular terms,” writes French theologian Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in his March 1, 2017 blog on theweek.com. “We have [retreats, mud masks and] cleanses, after all. And indeed, the idea that Ash Wednesday could be helpful for all of us to try to get rid of, or at least pause, the superfluous things in our life to focus more on the essential is an idea that is present in Eastern and Western spirituality, as well as in secular folklore.”
Gobry continues. “We are all mortal, and yet we spend our entire lives trying to distract ourselves from this fact. On a day-to-day basis, almost all of us like to think and live and behave as if we will live forever. But we won’t. If you were to die tomorrow — or 40 days from now — what would you change? What would you do differently? Lent pushes us to ask these questions.”
Lent does more than push. Like the profound realizations we experience when a loved one dies, Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday, sets us in our place with this fourfold understanding: we aren’t deserving or entitled; without God, we start and end our lives in dust; yet life is a gift, and eternal life is the greatest gift.
The intentionality of Lent enables us to face our mortality and sinfulness. Reestablished is not our want but our need for a Savior.
Here’s the deal. Ash Wednesday enables us to lift our impure, imperfect selves to see the pure and perfect Jesus Christ, the one Gobry calls “love made flesh.”
Let Ash Wednesday do what it is supposed to do, ground you. No glamor, no glitz, no glory within. It’s just you and God.
And the journey begins.
Lent begins 40 days before Easter. (The 6 Sundays aren’t counted). Because the date for Easter changes every year, the date for Ash Wednesday also changes. This year, Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th. And yes, truly, and this comes from a romantic soul here, this is the best date you can have today.
It’s your choice. Rituals support or stifle. They can be set aside, or set you free.
I say this. Ash Wednesday and Lent enable us to experience not only our humanity but Jesus’, and, as this happens, our reality shifts and our relationship with God deepens.
This blog first appeared in KEEPING THE PACE, my column in The Susquehanna Independent on February 14, 2018.