Ash Wednesday

And so Lent begins. It doesn’t feel like it’s started for me yet, because I’ve not yet been to church. I meant to get up early and go to Mass before work, but it didn’t happen. To paraphrase Neil Sedaka, “Waking Up Is Hard To Do.”

I’m a bit peeved about it. Going to church and receiving ashes in the evening seems somehow un-penitential. I kind of miss out on the aspects of Ash Wednesday that are both a reflection on one’s sinfulness and well, just plain funny. Such as the fact that the ashes inevitably resemble a thumb print more than a cross. The strange looks you get from people who don’t know what Ash Wednesday is and having to explain it to them. The knowing nods and glances from fellow Christians marked with ash. And while I imagine it being nowhere near as uncomfortable as wearing a hairshirt, there is that ticklish feeling on the forehead intensified by the knowledge that you just can’t wipe it off.

People wiser than I have written extensively about Ash Wednesday and Lent so here is a compendium of Ash Wednesday thought:

Last year Busted Halo put together a helpful list of 25 Things You Can Do For Lent. This year they offer the Practical Guide to Lent.

Whispers in the Loggia writes about Jesuit Father James Martin, author of My Life With the Saints, who has an annual tradition of receiving a Lenten penance from his Jewish friends.

Theologiene collects a mosaic of photographs of people marked with ash.

Fr. John Duffy of the Paulist Fathers sees Lent as the Season of Reconciliation.

Diana Butler Bass writes about Giving Up Lent For Lent.

If that’s not outside the box enough for you, Dirty Catholic offers commonly over-looked possibilities of what to give up for Lent.

Finally, there is T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, Ash Wednesday.

For my own Lenten practice I’ve long ago decided that giving something up (for example, chocolate) is too superficial for me. I remember a friend in college who gave up raisins for Lent which is funny because raisins are actually good for you. Then again she had a strong fondness for raisins so there was a personal sacrifice involved. Instead of (or in addition to giving things up) I like to take things on for Lent. I also consider things that I may try to do permanently beyond Lent. Sometimes I’m successful, like 13 years ago when I gave up eating meat for Lent, decided I didn’t miss it, and have been vegetarian since. Sometimes not, like the time I tried to attend Mass daily and failed miserably early on in Lent.

So this year for Lent I will:

  • Volunteer — There may be 40 days in Lent, but I counted up 48 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Monday and I hope to volunteer 1 hour for each of these days, that is two full days of volunteerism in total.
  • Read spiritual books – I have a list of books on faith, spirituality, and theology that I will read throughout Lent.
  • Give up my favorite Mets forum — I spend a lot of time reading and writing online at my favorite Mets forum, but not during Lent.

There we have it.  A good Ash Wednesday and Lent to all who observe them.