Today is all about this, it's Ash Wednesday.
The saying, "Vanitas, all is vanitas, " is the theme of the day on so many levels.
As the priest smudges the ashes (Last year's blessed palms from Palm Sunday) on your forehead, he says "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
So, if that doesn't get ya thinking about your mortality, I don't know what will.
It's a somber Mass.
A somber day, of fasting and penance.
It's supposed to be.
Because today marks the start of lent, a penitential season, where we work to strip away the things that hinder us from walking closer to God. We are given six weeks, forty days, to try and try again, to detach from things that hook us in and keep us looking at ourselves: our vanities.
It's the ultimate vanity, that constant head swivel back to us (ok, sigh, me), our looks, our wants, our desires comforts distractions. We/I all do it, all the time. We are practically programed to do so, but the Church in her wisdom gives us an entire season to work on this. No, not to try to lose those last ten pounds, or finally quit smoking, but rather to shed some of the thorny tangles that that keep us mired in the brier patch of ourselves. Those stickery snags that keep us from walking forward a step or two into holiness or just a step or two closer to God and his perfect will for us.
It takes the whole season to even go a step or two I think, or at least, it does for me. Because I botch it up, every year. I've even learned to not set my sights too high, for the fall from afar is so discouraging that it's then a temptation to just ditch it. Just like those ever failed New Year's resolutions. (I don't do those either, anymore).
**To that end, I'd like to point out that a mere TWO hours into this Lenten season I'd already stepped on a landmine and blown up: mom fail.
Kinda made me feel like I might as well draw a hot bath, mix a lemon drop martini, grab a box of chocolate and surf facebook......and it was only seven a.m.!!
Yeah, so, I was in dire need of Mass....nothing like starting Lent on a stubbed toe and deflated humbled heart. Perhaps, though, just precisely what I needed, doh.But, I digress. That was my Lenten PSA so that you all can feel more hopeful about your Lenten observances. You're welcome. **
But Lent is not a New Year's resolution, except that it IS the lead up to the New Liturgical Year (starts with Easter Morning). And it is a kind of pruning to help us spring forth into the new year in better shape, spiritually.
Or, wear it out loud.
Wear it, all day long.
It's a pain, really, these ashes.
As I mentioned, it's a solemn day. I'm hungry. I'm terrible at fasting, I want to whine (and I tend to, no surprise to you I"m sure).
The ashes, they itch and smudge further and further as the day goes on, often ending up sliding down my cheek a bit or onto the tip of my nose.
All day, clerks at the store or the drive through of Starbucks will look at you twice and say, "Um, you've got a little something..." and wave their hands around their face and then towards yours.
Here in the south, I get that more than other parts of the country, where the Catholic ratio is higher. But even so, I nod and say, "I know. Ash Wednesday." And then, usually they blink at me, look away, "Oh."
It's really really tempting to wipe them off. Or to kind of wipe them off "by mistake" as you fix your hair or scratch an itch. Who wants to feel like a dork?
But it's an act of will not to wipe, and that's really the whole point.
It's for any and all of us.
As hard as it is, it's one of my favorite seasons. Maybe that's because I am a task oriented gal; but that is precisely what usually trips me up during this season.
Very easy to fall into the trap of being too legalistic...which is, of course, pride. Sigh.
I think I like it because my heart really does yearn to grow in holiness, yearns to love better and fuller and the only way I can do that, I know deep inside my soul, is to grow closer to Christ. And Lent has me on the path - if only for a step or two.
So, I'm tiptoeing to Easter.
I've got my ashes on today and I'm yearning to snack...but I know that is my physical reminder of my hunger for more in this world and in my stony heart.
They bug me.
But I'm wearing them.