I haven't decided if I'm going to invite some of my students, as I did last year, to contribute reflections to my blog. As much as I enjoyed doing it, and loved hearing from them, it is a lot of work to collect and edit their submissions. If I can find a way to manage it, though, I'll invite them to participate.
Ash Wednesday is, perhaps, my least favorite liturgy. I have something of a texture aversion - popsicle sticks and tongue depressors make me gag - and the consistency of the ashes sort of reminds me of dry wood. Naturally, I'm going to help with the distribution of ashes so I'll get to dip my thumb into the ashes many times and I mark the sign of the cross on my students' foreheads as I remind them to, "Repent and believe in the Gospel."
Sixteen years ago this month, I started in a Weight-Watchers program. I remember being sixteen and really nervous that first night: I'm a naturally self-conscious person and I was afraid that people would look at me with scorn or judgmentally. I was, after all, a fat teenager!
I was so nervous as I stood in line, waiting to get on the scale. Women and men of all ages and sizes were in line ahead of me. Rather than being competitive, or mean, they were fun and friendly. They traded recipe ideas, workout tips, and encouragement. Each of us took a turn at the scale, the number was recorded, and we went out and waited for our group leader to speak to us.
I realized that night how important community is to our endeavors. We were all there for the same reason: none of us knew how to control his or her eating habits and each of us wanted to re-learn how to eat. Having recognized our problem, we had all taken the same step to correct our issues and we all had to face the same scale each week. Some weeks were better for some than others but, through it all, we were all in the group together, marked by our little binders where we kept track of our points and a common commitment to lose weight.
Ash Wednesday is to my mind sort of like Weight-Watchers. We come to the liturgy, each of us reckoning that her or his sinfulness is too shameful, or too embarrassing, to put into words. We make jokes about what we'll give up this Lent, perhaps because we wonder deep down if we have the strength to address those things that keep us from being the Christians we feel called to be.
Maybe this is the power of tomorrow's liturgy. After the ashes are distributed, we can look out to see that we are - all of us - sisters and brothers working together to be better disciples of Christ. Every one of us is smudged and marked with ashes None of us does it perfectly all of the time, but through these weeks, we need to remember that we can help each other through explicit support and quiet prayer. Marked by common ashes and fed by the same Eucharist, may we find the strength to journey into Lent, following Christ and supporting one another, as we pray our way toward being the women and men God is inviting us to be.