Lent 1: Self-declaring

Cross made of ashes

Half a lifetime ago, I worked with an Indian Sikh man, who wore a beautiful Kara bangle. I asked him about it once. He knew me well enough to know I wasn’t ignorant to his faith, but you don’t know what you don’t know. And if someone asks with curiosity, why wouldn’t you share information about your faith? My friend told me about the other 4 articles of faith he also wore. When he was preparing for his wedding, he was very excited to show me the beaded groom’s veil his brother sent him. He invited me, my gentleman associate, and Child to his wedding at a temple. We removed our shoes at the door, and I covered my hair. It was lovely to be included.

Around the same time, I was taking Adult tap classes on Wednesday nights. On Ash Wednesday, I found a parish between my work and my dance studio that was having a mass in the gap of time I had before class started. When I got to class, a conversation ensued:

Tap classmate, touching her own, unmarked forehead: You have something on your face.

Me: Yes. They’re ashes. I’m Catholic.

Class started very soon after this, and she spoke almost no words to me at all for the rest of the night, certainly, but for most of the rest of the session of lessons, too. I don’t think it was that she was horrified that I was Catholic. I think that it was that she felt embarrassed that she unwittingly brought up religion, which, some feel should not be discussed in polite society. She didn’t know how to recover from what she considered a faux pas. I didn’t regard it as such, but I didn’t try to repair the situation, either. We knew each other very peripherally as students who both took a class. I don’t even remember her name. Maybe I never knew it. I wasn’t there to make friends or to evangelize. I was there to tap dance. And because it coincided with Ash Wednesday, I did it in my full Catholic lay-person Regalia. After a few weeks, the session was done and I never saw her again. So, *shrugs*

My Ash Wednesday reflection is always about how my faith doesn’t require that I wear an outward sign of my faith. To a stranger in the grocery store, or in the lunch room at work, my faith is a mystery.  RC kids don’t have to wear anything like a hijab or niqab or yarmulke or kippah or Sikh turban. Our wardrobe doesn’t include a wimple or cassock to declare our faith. I could self-declare, with a Sacred Heart tattoo on my arm, or by hanging a rosary from my rearview mirror, or setting up a nativity set on my desk at work. But my crucifix charm on chain, or Child’s St. Michael pendant can be hidden from view, if we wanted it to remain so.  I mean, I don’t hide the fact that I’m an RC kid, but without a conversation happening, there’s nothing that announces it. Except today. Today, a swipe of ashes on my forehead is my yearly opportunity to wear my faith on my proverbial sleeve. If I go to morning mass, I wear them for the day. If I go in the evening, as I will do this year, I wear them more briefly.

During Lent I’m going to try to recognize the outward signs of faith of those around me. This Lent, may I be respectful of everyone’s declaration of their beliefs, whatever they are (or aren’t). May I live my faith with pride, and recognize it in others with respect. May my faith show without the visual cue of a marking of palm ash.

Last year:

L:1 – Ash Wednesday

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