Ash Wednesday for RC kids means a trip to mass for a smudge if ash on our foreheads. I used to go to a church where they actually collected up our palms from the previous Palm Sunday to burn into the ash that we got on our heads. My current church does this more mysteriously, but that’s where they’re supposed to come from. So, all the good RC kids gather on a Wednesday for mass, and we’re marked with a cross made of ashes on our foreheads.
I’ll attend mass tonight, so I only wear the ashes for a little while, mostly in the privacy of my own home. I actually like it when I can I can wander around with them on in full view. It’s Ash Wednesday, and I get a rare chance to self-declare. And once it’s there, you often forget about it because you can’t see it. But others see it and it says something about you. I know that lots of people have pretty strong opinions – some rightly so – about the nature of Christ-based religious traditions. I’m not going to push the “not all of us” defense, and I’m not going to defend hypocrites. I think that rational, intelligent people know that wide brushstrokes never serve anyone well. Ghod knows who his faithful are. And who they aren’t.
Catholic and other Christian traditions can opt in to revealing their Faith traditions with crucifix necklaces and rosaries hanging from the rear-view window and Sacred Heart tattoos an WWJD silicon bracelets. But all those things can be hidden with shirt-collar style, or clothing options, or by just taking the rosary down. You can decorate your desk in December with a nativity scene, or not. You can listen to Christian Rock on your headphones all day and no one is any the wiser. If you want that all to be a very personal thing, it can be. Throughout the year I have conversations with co-workers about church groups, so I know they are part of The Faithful, but other than that, there’s no declaration. And there doesn’t have to be. It’s not like we’re being cagey or hiding anything.
There are other faith traditions that require a more visible commitment every day. A niqab or kippah or Sikh turban also says something. I kind of like that. Other people really, really don’t. A woman saying an oath of citizenship wearing a niqab maybe is saying more about her faith in God (or her gratitude that God has blessed her with the opportunity to immigrate) than her supposed disrespect for a new country. But different is hard, because as RC Kids (and Christians in general), our faith doesn’t have a mandatory wardrobe.
So, to the ashes. For the duration of Lent, may my spirituality show without the visual cue of a marking of palm ash. This Lent, may I also be respectful of everyone’s declaration of their beliefs, whatever they are. And if, at the end of Lent, you’ve worked toward being a better person for no spiritual reason at all, that’s good, too.