Ash Wednesday

Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...

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I love the voodoo side of Christianity – Catholic ritual especially. Like getting ashes smudged unto one’s forehead to mark the beginning of Lent. I was in high school before I realized that the priest was supposed to be marking us with a little cross. The priests at our parish were old, curmudgeonly and lazy as lizards in the sun, so for most of my childhood, Ash Wednesday meant wearing a big fat thumb print of one misogynist or the other.*

We made a game of not washing our faces and letting the ashes wear off. That whole day in school was marked with the constant flake off of burnt palm leaves from the Easter before as we endeavored wear our religion like a Brownie badge.

Of course, in my nearly all Catholic town, it was those without ashes who stood out. The rest of us were “in the club”.

It wasn’t until I was off in Des Moines and teaching that I gave up the start of Lent, as I eventually gave up Lent itself. Finding a mass to attend became inconvenient when I was anchored to the teaching day. And Des Moines was a Protestant dominated place with evangelicals and even more loony to the right of far-right’rs. I quickly tired of their prejudice and worse, their willful ignorance of any faith but their own.

“Do Catholics really drink blood.”

Seriously, someone asked me that. Someone grown up and with a college degree.

But mostly, I came to realize that it was the ritual, outward trappings and the psuedo-polytheism in the form of saints that really was what Catholicism was about for me. The silly trappings and not the beliefs or the foundation they were built on was my “religion”.

But even now, I miss the spiritualism. The mantra of prayer and response. The pageantry of Christmas and even Easter though I always found the latter to be a bit sick and perverse as it feeds an unhealthy self-loathing that often manifests out and at others. I have never found shame, guilt and fear a good basis for a relationship and yet that is the one we were instructed to build with the Almighty.

But the ashes were kind of awesome because regardless of the twisted nature of Lent, they were a rather good reminder to live in the now.

“Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”

 

*Not an exaggeration. Neither man liked females in the slightest and took no pains to hide their contempt from us. Mothers, nuns or little girls. We were all barely tolerated.

2 responses to “Ash Wednesday

  1. my Dad was raised Roman Catholic in the immigrant sections of Boston. He hated Vatican II, as it drove the demise of latin mass, and many of the spiritual trappings that he adored about the church.

    he told the tale of one of his earliest memories – when his mother became convinced he’d been a victim of the evil eye. she dragged him to the church for blessings, and the burning of candles, then stopped at the home of the strega – the local ‘witch doctor’ – for further cleansing.

    to him the beauty of the religion was that there was room for both…

    (oh, and i learned a few years back not to offer to helpfully wipe that smudge off the forehead of a colleague… oops!)

    • Dad wasn’t a Vatican II fan either. They were still saying the mass in Latin in Dubuque as late as ’65 b/c I have the vaguest memories of bobby pins digging into my tiny scalp as they held the little white dolie – or whatever it was – in place. I sorta remember the priest had his back to us and I couldn’t understand a word he said.

      I loved the cascade of bells at consecration though and the vestments and choir boy robes the altar servers wore.

      A witch doctor? So cool. I understand your dad’s ire totally.

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