Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Imposition of Ashes

SELF: I'll go to the Ash Wednesday service, but I don't want the ashes put on my head.
WIFE: Why not?
SELF (hesitantly): It's .... papistical.
WIFE (laughing): Then why go?

Why indeed? As a former Baptist, former Pentecostal, and former Presbyterian, I'm not yet comfortable with all the rituals of Episcopalianism. For instance, I've just started feeling OK with crossing myself, but I still have a problem with genuflecting towards the altar (sorry, seems like idolatry). The imposition of ashes was yet another hurdle.

But I went, knelt, prayed, and received the imposition of ashes. Nine days before my 53rd birthday, I was instructed to remember that I was dust and would someday return to dust. After the service, I walked out with a crude cross of ash smeared on my forehead, feeling incredibly blessed. Go figure.


Targuman said...

It is surprising how similar our thoughts. I was reared ("You raise crops and cattle," says my mom) a Presbyterian, but I have been an Anglican/Episcopalian for 12 years. Today I served at a noon service and just returned from an evening service with my family.

Throughout the day, back on campus, I thought (somewhat hesitantly) how convenient it was that my hair was long enough in the front to obfuscate my cross. Then tonight I heard for the second time the Gospel reading that begins:
Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven."

And includes:
"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

I have decided that next year I certainly will attend and receive ashes, but I will clean my face. Because God knows that I have attended the service and am penitent. To continue to wear them would be practicing my piety before others.

Anonymous said...

I'm serving as Co-Pastor with my husband in a Presbyterian (PC(USA)) church and we have done imposition of ashes for some time now. Some people are reluctant and I think they just don't come. We offer to put it on their hand if they don't want it on their forehead, either way it seems quite meaningful to them.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post & comments. I left the ashes on, more as a testimony of belief in Jesus than any trumpeting of... anything else.

I was raised with no religion, became a Christian at 19 and fellowshipped with independent, fundamentalist Baptist for many years, and am now an Anglican... so I guess you could say I've gotten closer to Rome. Ash Wednesday/Lent weren't around, when going to Baptist churches.

By the way - imposition of ashes for me was done at a Catholic church this last Wednesday; I went with a friend from work. The Bishop gave a pretty good sermon, too. Catholics aren't wrong about everything.... :)