Thursday, March 06, 2014

Ashes to go

You know you run in churchy circles when your facebook news feed is a flurry of comments surrounding the ritual act of burning last year's palm branches so that they may be used for Ash Wednesday.  Some people speak of the beauty of the act, while others say the palm leaves smell like marijuana, while others bemoan an inappropriate consistency/hue or share stories of palm burning disaster.  In any case, yesterday was a day when, I would guess, millions of people find their way to houses of worship to be reminded that they are dust and to dust they will return.  Yes, we line up to have ashes placed on our forehead and be reminded that we aren't the masters of the universe we think we are.  Ministers, priests, pastors, teaching elders (not a fan of this name, btw) entreat followers of Jesus Christ to embark on a 40 day (not counting Sundays) journey of reflection, self-denial, and spiritual development.  We have entered a penitential season in which the word "discipline" pops up an awful lot.

So, you might imagine my surprise when I opened my tablet edition of The Tennesseean this morning and read about a movement called "Ashes to Go" whereby people can basically drive up in their cars and have ashes imposed on their foreheads.  "The national movement is becoming an Ash Wednesday tradition -- free of long prayers and church clothes -- that invites drivers to pull over for a moment of grace in a busy day."

Ummm...I wonder what kind of sense ashes on the forehead make without at least one prayer of penitence or contrition or acknowledgment that God is the maker of all things.  To say that one is dust and to dust they will return sounds downright hopeless without "all that God stuff" as some folks might say.  What does it say that one seeks to mark the beginning of Lent, a penitential, reflective season in which one is called to potentially fast or sacrifice something, with a drive by liturgical experience?  Is such an ancient ritual really to be separated from the communal gathering of the body of Christ?  

As always, I welcome any thoughts or reflections.