Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Ash Wednesday

When I was a child, I don't think they used a lot of ashes in my parish. I was always disappointed to find, when I got home, that there was nothing left on my forehead but a vague dark gray smudge. I could get dirtier than that by reading the newspaper.

This Wednesday night, I could see the black circles on my fellow parishioners from up in the choir loft. Indian ladies honoring their religion could hardly have been marked on the forehead more conspicuously than we. The very last person to get ashes was a baby in her mother's arms; her small black dot contrasted with her pale forehead like ink on paper.

I looked at us, covered in ashes if not sackcloth, and reflected that this was how sin must look like on our souls. Not to mention regret.

We were doing what the Bible recommended, as the readings made clear; gathering all the people together, young and old, to repent in an acceptable time. It was the beginning of Lent, that sorrowful six weeks whose English name means "springtime". For six weeks every year, we try to pray, fast, abstain, give alms, and make a little progress on the spiritual journey that God wants us to take. We stop, ask directions, turn around, and try to come back to the right road instead of continuing blindly on our own "shortcuts".

We start by publicly admitting, as a group, that we're lost. With ashes.


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