Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Ponderings

Millions of people will have ashes, in the sign of a cross, placed on their foreheads today.  Ash Wednesday is really the only time Christians intentionally, physically, and publicly display a symbol of faith on our bodies. One thing to consider about this ritual is the placement of the ashes. It is not just anywhere, but on the most prominent place on our bodies - the forehead.  It's out there for anybody and everybody to see.  I have two ponderings about this placement.

First, its placement is similar to the bindi and tilaka of the Hindu and other eastern religions. These small red dots and lines are also worn on the forehead, partly as symbols of the the sixth chakra , also know as the "third eye." It doesn't take much to imagine the ash cross as an eye or window of mortality through which we are invited to see the world and ourselves during Lent. The cross reminds us that everything and everybody around us is impermanent.

What's more interesting to me in the placement of the ash cross is that it can only be seen by others. Without a mirror or other reflection, it is impossible to see our own ash cross. This puts one in the precarious position of forgetting it is there.  There are countless tales of Ash Wednesday Christians acting like jerks only to be reminded of the cross on their foreheads.  This reminds me of the story of the driver who cursed and made obscene gestures to the person "honking" behind them, only remembering too late their bumper sticker that said, "Honk if you love Jesus."

And, this prompts what I think to be the central questions of Ash Wednesday and Lent - How is one's faith (any faith not just Christianity) lived and projected sans ritual, symbol, and institution? Are we known "by our love" as the old song says, echoing Jesus' own words?   What remains when the ash cross has faded away?

No comments:

Post a Comment