Day before yesterday, I attended my first ever Ash Wednesday service.
That'll be surprising to some of you, but it's true. I grew up in a church that strictly eschewed the observation of any kind of special religious celebration or observance, choosing instead to focus on following only the practices specifically set forth in the scriptures and ignoring all traditions that had grown up through the years of Christian history. That's not a bad approach in some ways, although it does tend to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Special times of reflection such as Advent, Christmas Eve, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday have come to be especially meaningful to us. This year we wanted to add a particular time of renewal during the season of Lent, so we were glad to start with an Ash Wednesday service.
The observance of Ash Wednesday is not obligatory in any way, but for hundreds of years now many Christians have marked the beginning of the Lenten season (the 40 days before Easter, not counting Sundays) with a particular time of reflection and repentance. The imposition of ashes upon one's head is symbolic, of course, but what a powerful symbol! With the placing of ashes on one's head comes the entreaty: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return," echoing God's words to Adam in Genesis 3:19.
That admonishment is meant to call us to God by reminding us that our days are numbered. In it I find echoes of Solomon's heartfelt cry, "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth" (Ecclesiastes 12:1), or Paul's earnest plea, "Now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2). I appreciate the reminder.
But this year I'm also thankful for the reminder that I am only dust. So often I yearn and strive, almost forgetting that I'm not responsible to do what God alone can do. God is God and I am not, and Ash Wednesday helped me remember what a wonderful and restful fact that is.
"Bless the Lord, oh my soul; and all this is within me, bless His holy name!" (Psalm 103:1)
**Do you practice any special observation of Ash Wednesday? Please share!