Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New Thing #318: Ash Me Anything

I went to a Catholic college, and since I'm not Catholic, I always felt a little left out during those times of year when Catholic pageantry would be at a fever pitch. I especially noticed the divide on Ash Wednesday, when I would be one of the only people without a smudgy forehead. It was like a one-day fad accessory, one that didn't didn't depend on how cool you were, just whether or not you'd been born into a fervently religious family. Mine was more the grape-juice-Communion Protestant variety, so today I got ashes on my forehead.
When I realized that today was the Wednesday, my first thought was to go get Ashed at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Apparently a lot of people had the same thought, because the line was wrapped around two blocks. I headed instead to St. Bart's on Park, an Episcopalian church with no line. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do when I got to the priest- the few people ahead of me were a mix of crossers, non-crossers, genuflectors and standers. When it was my turn, I just sort of stood there with my head bowed.
All the priest said was, "Remember that you are dust, and that dust you shall become" as he touched my forehead. Well that's true no matter what your religion is, so I reverently said "Amen" and went back up the aisle. (And before you get in my craw about "mocking" a religious practice by not taking to heart the symbolism behind the ritual, let me remind you that experiencing a different religion is a very important part of tolerance.)
Not five minutes later, I was standing on the platform waiting for the 6 when a guy my age approached me. "Excuse me," said impatiently. "What's this" he thumped his own forehead agitatedly, as if he were trying to supress something that might pop out of it, "that I see everyone walking around with?"
"It's Ash Wednesday," I replied.
"Ash Wednesday?" I would have given him more information if he'd asked for it, but he didn't. And it certainly wasn't "everyone" who was walking around with ashes. Once I left the 50s, I saw maybe one other person with ashes, but I didn't get a lot of strange looks, nor any more questions.


Tony Powell said...

Gee, this whole dust you shall become thing seems like kind of a downer after the great Mardi Gras party I went to yesterday.

Kathy G said...

Good for you! As a "cradle Catholic" I've been getting ashes on Ash Wednesday all my life, but it hasn't really been meaningful to me until the last couple of years. There's a reason Ash Wednesday follows immediately after Mardi Gras.

Bizzy said...

That is really cool. I read up on Ash Wednesday, being Methodist (though not practicing) I read that the priest says one of three things when marking the cross. One of which you state. My fiance's family is Catholic and when I visited, we went to Mass. What an eye opener for me. My fiance and I were the only two people in the cathedral who did not genuflect, pray, mark the cross, or take communion. It was really neat to see it happening though. Learning about new religions is great. If anyone mocks you for what you did, they need to step back and look at themselves.

Krafty Like A Fox said...

Hell, the only problem would be if you took Communion without being a baptized Catholic. Ashes are for everyone!

Anonymous said...

Ash Wednesday is for Christians, the demonination does not matter. Good for you!

Anonymous said...

I was raised catholic and I usually only worried about it making me break out. I have very finicky and sensitive skin. What I did look forward to was Fat Tuesday where I could get some delicious Paczki to eat. Could only have one since the are so rich and very fattening though.

Kathleen said...

I'm doing the Lent thing, and supposedly giving up swearing. I didn't realize I swore so d*mn much!!