why i hate ash wednesday

February 6, 2008

ash_21.gif Okay.  So that’s a little harsh.  (And, admittedly, provoked by a really good post I read earlier today entitled Why I Love Ash Wednesday.)

I guess, in all honesty, I have more of a love/hate relationship with this particular practice.  Like almost everything else in my Christian experience: I love the concept, hate the experience.  (At least initially.)

I suppose it gets back to the fact that “scarred” and “humble” and “sacrificial” sound really great to me (for so many impressive reasons), until I get around to trying them on.  Then (truth-be-told) I’m less than enthused.

I know.  I know.  It’s the feasting on the flipside of fasting — the life on the backside of death — that adds traction and imbues with significance this practice of intentional sacrifice.  (Always, I’m uncovering the layers inherent in such paradoxical truth.  Always, the discovery remains worthwhile.)

But none of that changes the fact that on Ash Wednesday (as with so many of the best practices of true Christianity), I am confronted absolutely and unapologetically with my own selfish inclinations.  And then given a choice.  (As if there really were one.)  I’m referring, of course, to the choice that is featured every Ash Wednesday: that of deciding whether to live for oneself or for Christ (regardless of Lenton expression).

By the sheer gravitational force surrounding the choice, I know better than to pretend in these (Ash Wednesday) moments that the stakes aren’t high.  (Nothing is this charged for no reason.)  At the same time, to confront the pull of my own self-interested agenda here will be — at the very same moment — to acknowledge the impossibility of choosing rightly.  (I simply cannot truly deny myself.  I don’t have the …)

And all of this (very convoluted, very sincere) angst is brought down upon me by something as silly and symbolic as a cross of ashes on my forehead … as I sit and contemplate if I can make-do without dark chocolate for the next 40 days.

Of course, as it turns out, it’s not actually the ashes or the loss of chocolate — it’s not actually Ash Wednesday — I hate.  It’s me in that place of utter exasperation.

But then (and only then, I might add) comes the part of Ash Wednesday we might say I love.  (We’d say it only in the same way we’d say I love oxygen … which is why we might not say it at all.)  It’s the part where I (exasperated, ashes-on-the-forehead, chocolate-on-the-menu, angst-on-the-mind, little-ol’-me) remember that I don’t have to deny myself by myself, but Christ (who knew & lived so faithfully this conflicted life) has offered Himself as my provision.

Throw in the tears (I just don’t even quite have words to describe) at this point and — let’s face it — I’m pretty much one big phat mess emerging from my Ash Wednesday experience.  (Which doesn’t really matter, since hey, I’ve got a large ash-cross-sign on my forehead for the next few hours anyway.)  I’m not sure anyone’s ready, in this moment, to talk about loving or hating with any true conviction.  But needing … ?

Well now that; that may just be next year’s blog-title in the making.


5 Responses to “why i hate ash wednesday”

  1. guido the pool boy Says:

    Well you touched a nerve. I participated in many Ash Wednesday services in my life. All I knew was that I had to get up extra early to go to Mass I never had a clue what the day meant (How Sad). I just hope the Faith has taught the next generation better than the last. Blind Ritual…for me it was!

  2. randybonifield Says:

    fantastic post, jt…while some people are posting youtube videos of the e*trade baby, you give us a very humorous, transparent and rich description of an Ash Wednesday in the life of jt. I’m in awe.

    dark chocolate? that’s serious faith…

  3. jt Says:

    kind words, my friend. (thanks.)

  4. Andy Says:

    post title = curiosity
    content = satisfaction

    This was a great post…thank you for the transparency and wonderful wit! Further reasoning of how I need to RSS feed this blog immediately.

  5. Stacie Says:

    WOW! Wish I could have been there for you…
    Heaven knows I’m an even bigger, phatter mess (is that a word?)and would only have been able to offer an ear…
    …beautiful thoughts from a beautiful person…

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