I pulled my hair back this morning. Normally I wear it down, but long strands will sometimes flop down against my face, angling in such a way that it cuts right across my forehead.
Today, I swept my hair back. My forehead was bare.
At breakfast I told the kids I would be attending an Ash Wednesday service at a church near ours. The service was at noon, I said, so I would leave around 11:40 to get there. I assured them that it was not a biblical mandate to get the ashes and since our church doesn’t follow the custom, I saw no reason why they should feel obligated to attend; however, I would be delighted to have them join me. Did anyone want to go with me?
They turned me down. Well, one of the girls considered it, but ended up getting a babysitting gig. So I went to my first-ever Ash Wednesday service alone, worshiping with Lutherans at the church building directly across the street from ours.
In spite of my slow-down fast, I got a late start and parked far from the door. I ran through the light rain without bothering to open my umbrella. Apparently Lutherans start right on time, because by the time I was slipping into the sanctuary a mere three minutes late, they had already finished the opening remarks and pastor’s welcome, and were on the last lines of a hymn. I slid into a pew, set my purse down, and wiped beads of moisture from my forehead.
We followed a program with responsive readings, Scripture readings, hymns, and a children’s message about “I” being right in the middle of “prIde” and “sIn.” We heard a short sermon for adults, recited the Nicene Creed, prayed, confessed—kneeling—and said the Lord’s Prayer.
The ancient custom of applying ashes, they said, reminds us of the wages of sin; that we are dust and to dust we will return. The ashes remind us that our sins need to be removed by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
I presented my forehead; that is, I stood there in front of the pastor, my forehead wiped dry from the rain and swept clear of hair, a blank canvas for him to do his work of “imposition.”
As he smeared the ashes in the form of a cross, he said, “though you are dust, Jesus died for you.”
I walked back to my pew, glancing at others in the room bearing their crosses. This was a first for me, to see a room full of people living with the ashen cross on their person in this way, remembering their frailty, their sin, dust on dust.
The fidgety little boy in the row in front of me quieted when he noticed the mark on his mother’s forehead. He pointed, then leaned forward and poked it, smearing the mark. Who can blame him? It’s impossible to ignore.
When the service was over, I walked out the door and popped up the umbrella. I didn’t want the ashes to wash off yet. I wanted to live with them a while longer.
As it happens, I have worn my ashes all day and watched the kids glance up at the mark and smile. Though they missed the service, they can’t miss the symbol, the reminder, the cross.
Though I am dust, Jesus died for me.
Because I am dust, Jesus died for me.
I always envied my friends
who came to schoolthe day after Mardi Gras
with a smudged forehead,
a spot of ash or soot
upon skin to signify
what – exactly?
Read the rest at “Ash Wednesday.“
“On Ash Wednesday, we stare death in the face,” says Mark D. Roberts, Senior Director of Laity Lodge and Theologian in Residence. Mark explains the Ash Wednesday tradition in depth at his post, “Ash Wednesday: Practice and Meaning” and offers a shorter reflection in his daily devotional today: “Remembering the Compassion of God on Ash Wednesday.”
Also, I’m embarking on a slow-down fast (see button above) that includes a multitask fast, something I originally heard about from Charity Singleton last year. Others are embarking on a similar “fast” this year, including Michelle DeRusha of Graceful. I will be posting specifically about my slow-down fast experiences on Saturdays (and provide a linky for those who wish to link Lent-related posts).
Visit Cassandra Frear of Moonboat Cafe for a roundup of Lenten Fast posts.
All of these people—Glynn, Mark, Michelle, Cassandra and Charity—are part of TheHighCalling.org (THC), and so I offer these links as part of Charity’s THC community-building project, “There & Back Again.”
Each Thursday, consider going “There and Back Again” yourself. It’s simple.
Here are Charity’s steps:
- Choose another High Calling Blogger to visit. It can be someone you have “met” before, or do what I do, and work your way through the “Member Posts” section of thehighcalling.com to meet someone new.
- Visit his blog, digesting the message until it becomes something that you can write about.
- Go back to your blog and write about it, being sure to link to the post that gave you the idea so that your readers can visit, too.
- Add the button to your blog so your readers know you are participating in “There and Back Again.”
- Go back to the Network blog and leave a comment so your new friend can feel the link love!
- Complete the journey by returning here, to Wide Open Spaces, and enter your link so that we all can benefit from the new High Calling connection you have made.
Credit: Image of Ann Kroeker’s Ash Wednesday forehead taken by Sophie Kroeker and edited by Ann Kroeker. Used with permission.