Sure, it’s a day all about death.
But in a strange sort of way, I do think that for couples who practice the tradition, celebrating Ash Wednesday can be a meaningful experience to share together.
Ash Wednesday is a day practiced by some Christians and more traditionally, Catholics to commemorate the beginning of the Lenten Season, a 40-day period of spiritual preparation before Easter. The 40-day spiritual “cleanse” originates out of the Biblical story of the 40-day period that Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and preparing his heart for the spiritual warfare that lay ahead for him.
The history of Ash Wednesday actually dates back about 10 centuries, when the church called out the worst of sinners by marking them wear ashes, a literal representation of the sin inside of them, and turned them out of the church doors, where they could focus on cleansing their hearts and souls before they were “reborn,” like Jesus, on Easter. (Easter, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is the day when Catholics believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after his crucifixion.)
Eventually though, the church realized — oh, yeah — everyone’s a sinner, and the practice of applying ashes to everyone soon became tradition.
Nowadays, on the Wednesday that marks the start of the Lenten season, millions of Catholics around the world (like myself) shuffle into churches for what sounds like a totally morbid experience.
We line up, single-file, and fold our hands somewhat awkwardly to stand in front of a priest who places ashes (made from burning last year’s Palm Sunday palms) into the shape of a cross on our foreheads and utters these words,
“Remember man that thou art dust and into dust thou shalt return.”
The words and the ashes, of course, are meant to remind us of the fact that we are all the same — that we all struggle with weaknesses and vice, pride and selfishness. We stumble, we fall, we can wear darkness upon us in secret, or we can bring it to life in the hope that we can overcome dark into light. The ashes represent turning darkness into light, overcoming and preserving, humility and forgiveness, and, above all, the power of love.
And on a day that could be looked at as completely weird, if I’m being honest with you, I always look forward to going to church for Ash Wednesday with my husband.
Because I love the solemnity of the ceremony, of the hushed darkness of the church, of the masses of people moving as one, the collective thoughts, business, and cares of the day falling quiet for one moment when we remember why we are all here.
Because I love to look over at him across our pew of sleepy children and okay, chuckle a little to myself at the absurdity of the mark splattered across his forehead, but also to realize:
We are in this together.
Faith can falter, religion can be skewed, misunderstandings and hurts can be rampant, but no matter what, there will always be moments of darkness and moments of light. Moments between he and I where I will need to remember that there aren’t so many differences between us after all. And that sometimes, all we really need is a little humility to ask for forgiveness.
It’s a dance, this thing called marriage.Sometimes it takes humbling moments, times of remembering what it’s all about, and even outward acts, to place our distracted minds of the task of moving forward at hand.
But much like the dark place that will rest upon my forehead today will represent to me, it’s a comfort to know:
I am not alone.
Image via The Cleveland Kid/Flickr