Wednesday, February 25, 2004

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return..."

My only post, in honor of the day, I guess.

Being a Protestant, I have never celebrated Ash Wednesday before. It was always classified as one of "those" holidays, the days celebrated by other faiths that would elicit shrugs and the odd "rolled eyes" from my family. We're pretty easy-going people when it comes to other folks' traditions; I like to think we are, anyway.

I have always been intrigued by the mysteries of Catholicism and her traditions. I only voiced this curiosity once to my family, and it was met with disapproval and head-shaking. I never spoke up about it again. But I have always wanted to go to mass. I want to learn Latin. And for some unshaking reason, I really want to participate in this religious tradition today.

I wasn't sure of the basic purpose behind Ash Wednesday. I had a vague silhouette of understanding. It's about penitence, it requires sacrifice, and it begins the season of Lent, a 40-day personal self-denial. I looked it up on the web to make sure I had the basics down. This site was pretty helpful, in that regard.

I always joke that my upbringing was a strange amalgam of Puritanism and Catholicism. The stringent Protestant regulatory system, combined with the monumental guilt carried cross-like by "holy mother church." This is, of course, an exaggeration, but a well-meaning one. My parents are zealous people, and I regard that as a great blessing, to be understood with wisdom.

Today, this feeling of guilt, shame, repentance that the holy-day demands of its adherents seems to resonate with me. Not because I enjoy wallowing in misery, beating my breast because I'm a worm (though I am). But, in an age where shame is unknown, it is refreshing to be again reminded that our best is worthless compared to God's best. All of our supposed goodness and purity is rendered worthless by a single sin, like a black spot on a white shirt. It's a relief to remember that we are dust. Because to do so is to fall helpless into the arms of the Almighty, upon whose grace we must wholly and utterly rely.

So I put it to you, gentle readers. How do you participate in this day, if at all? What do you think about this idea of guilt, sorrow, penitence? I'm curious as to what you think. If you aren't religious, what are your thoughts on all of this?

Another topic of conversation, as you like it: when I did my search for a basic description of Ash Wednesday, Google provided me with an unexpected find. Thank God for T.S. Eliot.

Peace to you, dear friends.

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