Photo by xlibber
When I bought my plane tickets to New York, I didn’t know I was scheduling myself to fly on Ash Wednesday. It’s not the sort of thing that occurs to me a few weeks after Christmas.
But Ash Wednesday has never really been in my consciousness, much. I grew up United Methodist, and always wondered what was up with the annually ash-marked foreheads in my significantly Catholic town. My family didn’t go to church on Ash Wednesday, let alone get marked by ashes or gravely decide to give something up.
As an adult, my relationship with Ash Wednesday and Lent has waxed and waned. I’ve gone to churches that make a bigger deal of it, and to churches that seem to ignore it. I’ve attended Catholic Ash Wednesday services with a friend who feels she needs that somber symbolism to make it all sink in, and I’ve let the day slip by without any awareness (until that moment when I pass someone on the sidewalk and wonder about the smudge of dirt on his forehead). I’ve tried “giving things up” for Lent, with various levels of success, and I’ve felt guilty about not giving anything up for Lent (or for giving up something that seemed too easy—a cop-out).
Ungrounded (aka: up in the air)
Rushing through O’Hare airport yesterday, juggling my bags and coffee as I followed signs to my gate, I felt vaguely bad about traveling on Lent—making a day that I already struggle with even harder to grasp in a meaningful way. Every time I glanced at Twitter, I saw someone else mentioning what they were giving up or taking on, and what church service they were going to. I thought, every so often, about things I could give up. Maybe something big, like caffeine, or sugar or alcohol! And then I selfishly thought about how this New York trip was my chance to have fun with friends in the big city. I didn’t want to give anything fun up. And then, of course, I felt guilty. Again.
(Aside: I have a feeling that those of you who struggle with this sort of thing will completely get what I’m talking about, and those of you who don’t will think I’m slightly crazy.)
It’s all very indicative, though, of my relationship with God, which has been in various stages of grounded and ungrounded over the years. There were many years when I was trying to figure out what God “wanted” from me—who he wanted me to be, how he wanted me to act, what hoops he wanted me to jump through (surely there were hoops). Then there were the years when I seemed to stop caring what God wanted from me, followed by a period of awakening, a realization that what God wants is for me to be me. He wants me to relate to him in a way that is meaningful and real for me.
I’m not saying this should be a faith of convenience, comfort and ease. I want to be challenged and pushed. There are many things I know I need, deep down. I need to stop and be still more. I want to pray more. I want to figure out what Lent is really all about—what God might be trying to teach me during this season, and how the weeks leading up to Easter might become more meaningful for me.
Moving away from “supposed to”
But as far as all of the “supposed to’s” and “should haves,” and the guilt that too often sidles up to religion? I’m pretty sure that’s not what God wants for me during Lent, or any time. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s worked hard to try to steer me away from that path, so maybe that’s the best way to honor him right now—by being aware of where I am, right now. Physically as well as spiritually.
Physically, I’m in New York. Spiritually, I’m feeling a bit adrift. Yes, yesterday was “A Day” on the church calendar, but it was also just a Wednesday, another day to muddle along, mess up a bit, learn something, reassess and move on. I can say farewell to Ash Wednesday for another year, and look ahead toward tomorrow.