Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
It's this constant pull I have between the life of the good Christian and the life of Auntie Mame.
Why do I observe Lent? Because I feel that if I'm going to embrace a theology that affirms the inherent worth, dignity and improvability of every human being, it gives those commitments some much-needed oomph to also acknowledge the sinfulness and depravity that we daily try to overcome. And not just in human nature in general. In myself.
The ashes were imposed upon me last night by a friend and colleague of the United Methodist persuasion. I was expecting something along the lines of "Ashes thou wert, to ashes thou shall return" as she marked my forehead. (Is "wert" a word, or did I just make that up?). What she said was, "Repent and believe in the gospel."
Whoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooa. You can bet that's going on my fridge and staying there for the next forty days. In my mind, I gave her a huge high five and said, "Right ON, sister!" In real life I said, "Thanks be to God" and went meekly back to my pew to repent. And to believe in the gospel. It's still a wonder to me how many unbelievably cool and smart people will never crack a Bible in their adult life, but they will rifle through the pages of Wayne Dyer and Dr. Phil and that Marianne Williamson creature looking for exactly the spiritual teachings that Jesus gave. They actually think the Bible is too kooky, and that that other stuff is eminently more sensible and spiritually wholesome. I want to set my hair on fire and run down the street waving a Bible and screaming, "You just can't let Jerry Falwell and those despicable nut jobs have this!!!Nooooo!!!"
My spirit always feels like Brian Boitano winning the gold medal on Ash Wednesday. All year long I carry this incredibly huge burden of trying to believe in the benevolence of God (central to classical Universalism) and the potential goodness of each person(central to Unitarianism). On Ash Wednesday I am only asked to do the former, and released of the latter, my spirit spins around in crazy freedom and joy, cackling maniacally. It is a huge relief to be invited to the dank cellar of my nastiest spiritual parts and reminded that it is because God loves me and made me in Her/His image that I am possessed of inherent worth and dignity. It is not, as I was taught by my dearly beloved but currently theologically floppy tradition, just CUZ.
I don't think you say, "Happy Lent," but I'll say it anyway. Happy Lent. If you're making a sacrifice, I hope it's a worthy one. I am giving up dessert and fantasies about inappropriate men.