Friday, March 3, 2017
This past Ash Wednesday I made my way into a local grocery store in the mid morning hour. As I was dragging a gallon of milk off the shelf, I saw a not yet thirty woman walking toward me. What caused me to take a second look was the black smudge on her forehead. I could not help myself. I had to speak. "Looks like you made it to an Ash Wednesday service this morning?" I was intrigued by the marking of the cross. Mine always seemed to be more like a smeared black blob that was supposed to be a cross, but the one she wore was neat, had a curled top, and caused me to wonder if the priest had used a rubber stamp rather than his thumb. When I spoke she broke out in a self conscious smile saying, "I forgot all about it." So, there we stood for a few moments talking about the power of the moment of receiving the ashes. It was indeed a holy moment while folks went along pushing their shopping carts.
It always interests me that younger people are drawn toward expressions of religious faith that bear the markings of being ancient and traditional. Today's folks are supposed to have a fascination with the trendy present. What she seemed to have discovered is a connection with a form of worship that has been around for centuries. While some may shy away from the liturgy that seems too rote, others find great spiritual value in stepping into a stream of spiritual expression that has been offered in the worship of God by so many for so long.
My friend, Ron, an Episcopal priest, helped me make this connection back in the days he and I served churches in Vidalia. He could be most irreverent. I often remember him saying "Slap on those ashes, tell them they're going to die, and send them home!" But, no man I have known participated in the rituals of the church with more reverence, wonder, and awe. Though he is gone from our midst and is a part of that great cloud of heavenly witnesses, I often think about him with a grateful heart during these days. He helped connect me to spiritual expressions of the past and in doing so strengthened my faith in the present.