Now I make no pretense at being a Christian, and yet Ash Wednesday fascinates me.
After all the excess of Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, whatever you want to call it, we reacquaint ourselves with Death, by smearing it upon our foreheads. Well, more specifically, we have someone else smear it on us, such as a priest (you talk to me, I’ll talk to G*d).
Ashes are a traditional symbol of mourning in many cultures. Perhaps it’s because many cultures practice cremation, or because ashes can only be produced when something is dead, be it plant or animal.
And so, Christians wear them upon their foreheads as a sign of mortality – “Memento Mori”, in theory, until it fades. And thus starts the 40 days (or 46 if you count the Sundays) of Lent, a time of fasting, penitence (perhaps for that Fat Tuesday?), and other self-flagellations and mortifications. In theory, it’s a nice idea. Ask for forgiveness, forgive others, start again with a clean slate. But the reality is that many people take some little luxury, stop eating, or drinking, or doing whatever it is for 40 days and call it good. If it’s really going to count, shouldn’t they really get into the whole forgiveness thing? I mean, I’m just an outsider here, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if Christians really did this, even just for Lent? Maybe it would rub off and other people would do it. The Jews already have Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, and the preparation for it. The Muslims have Ramadan, when they fast and minister to the poor. Wouldn’t it be a great thing to see all these religions get it right for a change and really forgive, really mean it?
Wow. Could we handle all that peace?