Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Foreheads: Crosses of Ash, Crosses of Oil

Last night, I talked to my pastor about Ash Wednesday.  He said he planned to do the final planning this morning.  I said, "Can I be an ash smudger?  I really love being the ash smudger.  I'd do it year round, if it was liturgically appropriate!"

We were at a church council meeting, so my enthusiasm wasn't completely out of line, although not exactly shared by my compatriots.  However, it surprised me, and I've been puzzling out why I like it so much.

I think about the other time we put crosses on each other's foreheads:  during our monthly healing service, for example.  Why don't I feel the same pull to do that?

I do, but it's a different feeling.  As I smudge the oil, I can often sense the brokenness and the yearning for healing.  And even though I know intellectually that it's not about me, that I'm not the Messiah.  If there's healing to be done, my fingers, words, and the oil, are a very miniscule, non-essential part.  But my emotional side feels fretful about the disappointment that might lie in wait for the bodies connected to these foreheads.

In short, so much hope is riding on that cross of oil . . . but the cross of ash isn't carrying the same weight.  Yet I feel the same tenderness as I approach each forehead.

I've written before about how I used to hate, hate, HATE Ash Wednesday as a child.  But as an adult, it's become one of my favorite high, holy days.  It's partly about the symbolism, which marks a shift to the liturgical year.  It's partly about the chance to do something different. 

But the older I get, the more I am aware of how we are but blades of grass, so quickly withered and blown away.  I like that reminder.  I think of my friend's Hindu priest, who smudges ash on his face every day as a reminder of mortality. 

Once I thought that we'd all be better off if we did the same.  Lately, I need no such reminders.  My Facebook feed is reminder enough of how quickly life can change.

It's also the time of year that my inner visual artist perks up and wants to play.  We could do so much with ash.  I am yearning to paint, yearning to stitch.  Let us see . . .

No comments: