Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

A year ago, I experienced a bit of Jewish-Christian tension over my desire to observe Ash Wednesday, and wrote the following:

< I wanted to go to an Ash Wednesday service today. My own church's service is at night (which I don't much like ~ it seems that we're saying, "OK, we'll do this, but late enough that no one will see us") and I have a class on Wednesday nights.Then I discovered that my old Methodist church has a service at noon, so I thought I'd go over there.

And then I spent some time agonizing over whether I wanted to spend the afternoon teaching my Jewish students with ashes smudged on my forehead. Most of them would be merely curious, and supportive rather than offended. Many of the teachers, perhaps the opposite. I finally decided against it.

If I worked in a secular environment, my solution would be different. During Advent, I wrote about going to a church meeting one night where one of the gentlemen had come directly from work wearing a Christmas tie. That would not have happened in my workplace. My workplace is a community and a home for people whose beliefs, and contextualization of their their beliefs, differ from mine.

I don't know whether or not I was right. One of my colleagues, headed for her UCC service tonight, agreed with me. Another, a rabbi, said he was genuinely sorry that we felt our observance might be offensive to others.>>

Today, some improvement. I am using both Pray As You Go and the Creighton University Lenten Site for my prayer, so the morning got off to a good start. Then as I moved through my classes, I asked three people whether there would be an imposition of ashes at the seminary chapel service today. The answers? "Gee, I don't know," from a professor; "I doubt it," from a puzzled student; and "No," from the professor preaching this morning.

I was prepared for the possibility that the observance here might not be what I was hoping for, and so I had already scouted out the local church scene. As a result, a friend and I took off at lunch for a spectacular church only a few blocks from our seminary.The service was perfectly beautiful and with its Taize-like chapel set up ~ candles, icons, stained glass windows ~ satisfied my longing for image and ritual that so often suffers in the utter starkness of our seminary architecture and practice.

Best of all, I have found, I think, a local church home. I haven't spent a week-end here yet, so I am unlikely to worship in the magnificent Gothic sanctuary, but there are Taize services in the chapel on Wednesday nights - and a labyrinth !

Last year someone left me a comment to the effect that God tells her (and not necessarily others) to wash her face after an Ash Wednesday service. I left mine untouched today. I understand the issue of ostentation in obervance and prayer, but sometimes it feels right that my ordinary self in my ordinary jeans doing my ordinary things might be a witness to the reality of the interjection of the extraordinary into our lives. If nothing else, I am probably the last person whom anyone would suspect of harboring a call to inner silence and prayer, so there's something to be said for letting that be known, however subtly.


Kathryn J said...

Hmmmmm. Today's gospel in our church was about practicing your faith and doing good works privately so I took refuge there. The last time I was comfortable with ashes on my forehead in public was parochial grammar school. The fact that evening services are the only ones that fit the children's school schedule means it hasn't been a problem.

The church sounds stunningly beautiful. I'm glad you have found a place that provides majesty, ritual, and a labyrinth.

Lisa :-] said...

Sometimes, Robin, I really think you are a secret Catholic.

Or not-so-secret.

It is a pity that the Catholics stubbornly continue to restrict the role of women in the Church...

Gannet Girl said...

Well, the church we visited was Presbyterian. There's a wide spectrum.

RevDrKate said...

"...sometimes it feels right that my ordinary self in my ordinary jeans doing my ordinary things might be a witness to the reality of the interjection of the extraordinary into our lives." This is wonderful...I just want to say a loud Amen!