Thursday, March 02, 2006

Yesterday was the third time I've ever participated in an Ash Wednesday service. Coming from a non-liturgical background, I grew up with limited knowledge about the church year, gleaned mostly from books. I had a few friends who were Catholic or Episcopalian, but - let's face it - most high school kids don't take that stuff too seriously. Or they're ashamed to talk about it if they do.

Two years ago, I joined three fellow students and a small crowd of older people at St. Giles' Church in Oxford on Ash Wednesday. Last year, my roommates and I bundled up against the cold and went to an early morning service at Church of the Heavenly Rest here in Abilene. But yesterday I didn't even have to leave campus. Our music department chair, Greg Straughn, decided to turn that day's departmental chapel into an Ash Wednesday observance.

We had a few songs and two Scripture readings and read a prayer together. We stumbled our way through a short chantlike song, and then they dimmed the lights. Dr. Straughn told us we were free to go, or we could stay and pray for a few minutes, alone or with faculty members. He had a small jar of ashes, available for anyone who wanted to observe the Ash Wednesday tradition of being marked by a cross of ashes on the forehead or palm.

I wasn't planning on going up there. I've felt so far from God lately that I sometimes feel as if I'm shouting across a canyon when I pray. What good would it do me to be marked by ashes? It wouldn't change anything. A dark smear on my forehead wasn't going to bring me back to Him.

But after sitting for a few minutes, watching as people bowed their foreheads slightly to receive the ashes, I got out of my seat and joined the line. And it was a quiet but powerful experience to have someone I know (Dr. Straughn is a professor and friend of mine) mark my forehead with ashes and say, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I wrote a poem about it later that day. It's still a work in progress, but perhaps it reaches into that experience more than my stumbling prose can do.

Ash Wednesday

Today this cross marks me as a follower
of Jesus,
a spirit housed in a body
made of ashes like these.
The edges are blurred,
smeared a little, like my soul -
broken, insufficient,
unsure, but still His,
walking down the road He walked
toward the light.


Blogger Beverly said...

Some of those traditions are overlooked but can bring us to holy moments.

okay, my 14 year old came home from a youth meeting marking passion week. He came home and said,"Oh yeah, Mom, I gave up peanut butter." How could I laugh at my sweet boy standing there..

12:40 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I gave up broccoli - so far, so good.

While I am certainly suspicious of liturgy for liturgy's sake, I think we (protestants) really miss out on the preciousness of these events. Marking the mutability of man (to dust thou shall return) as well as our sorrow for transgression (ashes on the head) are extremely important reminders.

I'm glad you've been able to do it.

Now when I was at ACU, you would get called into the dean's office if someone ratted that you went to a mass. Or at least it happened to me. Things change - sometimes for the better.

1:53 AM  
Blogger BCDees said...

Not all Protestants are non-liturgical, you know. Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and others tend to utilize the liturgy, as part of the great liturgical renewal that has occurred over the past half century or so. It [the liturgy] is a great treasury of symbols and meanings for the church; it gives shape and focus to the year and to the worshiping assembly. And while I understand why a deemphasis on liturgy was concomitant with the intitial stages of the Protestant movement, ditching the liturgy is just about as silly as ditching the Eucharist or baptism - it is a vital part of our Christian heritage. It is not liturgy for liturgy's sake, but an important way to connect worshiping assemblies throughout the world through shared actions.

10:01 AM  

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