Many of us come from Christian backgrounds where Ash Wednesday received barely any noticed at all. I grew up in a Baptist tradition where this day, and all of Lent, received little, if any, recognition at all. Somewhere along the protestant journey, our fear of any pre-reformation religious practices has caused us to abandon a lot of observances that could have, and still can, serve to enhance the mystery and depth of the truth we all hold to.
Martin Sheen, actor and faithful practicing Catholic, describes the beauty of his yearly Ash Wednesday experience –
“How can we understand these great mysteries of the church? I don’t have a clue. I just stand in line and say Here I am, I’m with them, the community of faith. This explains the mystery, all the love. Sometimes I’m just overwhelmed, just watching people in line. It’s the most profound thing. You just surrender yourself to it.”
Sheen on ‘On Being with Krista Tippett’. I learned of it through a wonderful commentary of Matthew 6:1-16, 16-21 written by James Howell, Senior Pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. Thanks Dr. Howell!
On Ash Wednesday we individually yet privately commit to our 40 day Lent journey of remembrance and deep observance of Christ’s walk to the brutal cross and his followers surreal experience at the empty grave. It is a day built on silence and contemplation, sacrifice and self denial, oddly though, we often wear a very public and visible ash cross on our forehead, put there by an extremely unskilled artisan who is trained in the practice of faith not of visual artistic expression. It is a day where we internally commit to the practice of laying aside the things that usually cause us to forget the cross and empty tomb. We choose our level of sacrifice, our level of house cleaning, we give up Facebook, we temporarily quit drinking soft drinks, we deny ourself the vices we have grasped tightly to since our teens – we say ‘this is my cross for the next month and a half.’ Or, possibly we add to our practices, maybe we decide to add kindness to our behavior patterns, maybe we put aside criticism and judgement towards others, we adopt the practice of seeing others as God’s created and beloved. How we navigate the coming days is totally up to us.
Today is our Lenten baptism day where we exit the waters committed to spending the coming days and nights between now and Resurrection Sunday in the most life impacting manner possible.
Have an amazingly contemplative day on this first day of your/our Lent journey!