375: The marks of Ash Wednesday run far deeper than a forehead smudge

hatever your faith may be, here’s why it’s so important to understand and appreciate the faiths of our neighbors: Seasons like Ramadan, Passover, Lent and so many others reach deeply into the lifelong connections we have made with the people we love.
    Sitting in an office today, waiting for an appointment, I suddenly was surprised to see a woman rush in — out of breath and without a coat on a chilly day. Through the office’s big glass windows, I could see her car still running outside.
    She began: “I just wanted to check on —”
    But the receptionist cut her off: “Judy, you’re Catholic!”
    Judy stopped in her tracks. “What?”
    “Your forehead!”
    “Oh!” Judy chuckled and the receptionist chuckled, too. “Well, not anymore. Or, well, yes! I guess I still am. I mean I’m not formally, you know —”
    The receptionist held up a hand to calm Judy, then pointed at her face. “You’ve got ashes on your forehead and it’s not even noon. Catholic, right?”
    “We’re actually not officially Catholic anymore,” Judy said, naming a nondenominational suburban megachurch she attends with her husband and daughter. Then Judy said wistfully, “But on Ash Wednesday? I don’t know. Maybe I think Mom’s looking down on me or — anyway, every year, I drive down to see Father —” and she named a priest in an urban parish half an hour away. “And I get the ashes.”

    What a cluster of spiritual connections!

    Mary Liepold, a good friend of ReadTheSpirit, dropped me a note about her own Ash Wednesday reflections. She begins with: “When I was a kid in parochial school Lent meant giving up sweets because Mom and the nuns expected me to. Then Vatican II came along and I rejected the old ‘if it hurts it’s good for you’ line of reasoning — until I joined the peace movement.” Read Mary’s reflections, which she posted on the Peace X Peace Web site.
    In addition to deep memories of family, school and community — Mary talks about all the other remarkable insights that connect with a season like this: from the realization that millions of Protestants observe Lent as well as Catholics (an emerging truth that surprises lots of Catholics) — to the provocative idea Mary suggests of fasting from violence during Lent.

    Terry Gallagher, a wonderful writer and an occasional contributor to ReadTheSpirit, dropped this note that departs in another direction from the holiday:
    “There’s something astronomical about Lent, that it takes up an
eighth of a year, or half of a season, 6.5 weeks. There are a couple
of other dates in our calendar that reflect this segmentation. Groundhog’s Day, for example, is the halfway point of winter, no
matter what the shadow knows.
    “In Ireland, they celebrate St. Brigid’s
Day on Feb. 1 and consider that the first day of spring. Halloween is
(roughly) the halfway point of autumn.  Easter, of course is a movable
feast, so Lent doesn’t coincide with the climate in quite the same way.
But I’m still interested in why it’s six-and-a-half weeks.

    “When I was in grades five through eight at St. Martin School, I got in the habit of going to Mass every day during Lent, at
6:15 a.m. on weekdays. One of the things I remember most clearly about
that is having a daily sense of how morning came to Detroit’s east side as
winter was ending and spring coming. Our church was one long block
away from the house, and I remember walking to church and coming home
in the dark at the beginning of Lent, wearing galoshes and a heavy
coat, then close to Easter, walking both ways in daylight.
    “So that
might be what started me thinking that there’s something astronomical,
or maybe celestial is the better word, about Lent.”

    I love that phrase: something celestial about Lent.

    THEN, there was this great little note from Lynn Hubbard, a musician, writer, pastor and Native American activist. (Among Lynn’s many online “homes” is this gem from a fund-raising concert he helped to stage.)
    For Ash Wednesday, Lynn sent this from songwriter Leonard Cohen:
    “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering
    “There is a crack in everything,
    “That’s how the light gets in.”

    Leonard Cohen

    What are you experiencing, either as you observe Lent — or, as you observe neighbors who are suddenly embarking on this season?

WE INVITE YOU TO CHECK OUT THE SPECIAL “OUR LENT” SECTION OF OUR ONLINE MAGAZINE, which we have opened up with an array of writers for this spring season observed by 1-to-2 billion people around the world.

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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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