Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Meditation

Lent isn’t a holiday. I mean, no presents, no big meals, it isn’t much fun, giving up things and moaning and groaning about what miserable souls we’ve been. It’s more like kicking a guy when he’s down, I think, which is not a nice thing to do.

Lent caters to the masochistic turn in all of us—or is it the sadistic turn? (I can’t remember which is which.) It gets harder and harder, as the dismal season drags on, to get excited about things, and at a certain point we throw up our hands and say, “Screw this! Let’s admit it. Life stinks and I do to.” Groveling in the ashes. Shutting down.

My parents coaxed my brother and me to church week after week for years, but never on a Wednesday. And they pooh-poohed the idea of the ash mark on the forehead, probably because my mom had been raised Catholic. When she gently suggested that during Lent I might want to try giving up something, I said, “O.K. I’ll give up chewing gum.”

“But you don’t chew gum,” she said.

“Well, that will make it a lot easier.”

I think I’ve matured a bit since then. But I’m still not inclined to inflict pain on myself or anyone else for no good reason.

“But,” you may reply, “there is a good reason. Deprivation heighten sensitivity. Remove us from our toys, and we’ll start living again.” There’s a kernel of truth to that.

The thing I remember best about the Lenten season, from my “observant” years as a young Christian, is the palm cross. That was a nifty little thing they gave you, a single palm frond all twisted and wrapped into an elegant knot of shape. I would always say to myself, “This year I’m finally going to learn how they make these,” as I slowly took the cross apart. But I could never get the thing back together again.

Maybe that’s the Lenten message in a nutshell. You can never put things back together again. The Humpty-Dumpty theme. But you can try. And meanwhile, you’ve got to keep moving ahead.

P.S. While I was a hunting up the image of the palm cross, I happened upon a website that gives clear simple instructions about how to put one together. You can find them here.

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