|What a perfectly formed cross this year...|
"Hey, lady, you've got dirt on your face."
"Um, excuse me, ma'am, but I think you need to wipe your forehead."
"You are the 4th person I've seen today with that mark on their forehead. What's going on?"
"Hey, that's weird. The smudge on your forehead looks like a cross!"
These and other remarks have made up the running commentary on my personal Ash Wednesday for years and years. I have always considered the mark to be a sort of badge of honor...a Boy Scout patch for Lenten repentance or something. I've worn it proudly, despite the stares, pointing and sometimes hilarious observations. But was I too proud?
From Matthew 6 today was our Gospel reading: "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you." (Of course, I always wondered about the logic of this sentiment given we are walking around with a black cross on our foreheads all day...the secret's out, folks. Yes, I'm observing the Lenten season.) Seriously, though, it is with great restraint that I have learned in recent years to keep my sacrifices and works more to myself. I'll tell someone if they ask but I try not to, as I often have, look like a martyr while refusing peanut M&M's.
Instead I will try to act as the scripture dictates, Joel 2, also from today: "Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps He will again relent and leave behind Him a blessing."
Lent, the 40 days before Easter, is a time of repentence and reflection. It's our time to humbly reflect on how we can best model the giving, loving behaviors charged us by God. And it is also the time to ask forgiveness for those ways we have erred, those things for which we are ashamed. But the best part of Lent is our reminder that in Christ we have experienced victory over sin and guilt. Guilt being a human charge (and often feels exclusive to Catholics!) need not enter into our contemplation. Because it is through Jesus' ultimate sacrifice that we know each time we sin, all if forgiven.
No weeping for me...
no rending of garments...
no wailing or gnashing of teeth...
Simply quiet gratitude that I can start each day fresh and new with the forgiveness of my Heavenly Father...but of course, without peanut M&M's for the next 40 days.