Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

It's hard to admit this, but I went out and had a martini with a colleague immediately after Ash Wednesday services last night.
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.


Blogger fausto said...

In the Episcopalian wilderness where I wandered for a while before returning home like a Unitarian prodigal, Lent was when you gave up your New Years' resolutions.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Fausto and Peacebang have a little something in common, and it has to do with nutmegs.

Blogger fausto said...

Nutmegs? Well, yes, Fausto can understand the connection in those terms. But Fausto would have described it more in terms of an aircraft carrier flipped upside down in drydock to repair leaks in the hull.

Peacebang may not remember, since it was only a fleeeting moment during a busy event, but Peacebang and Fausto have discussed this before, when Peacebang was not yet Peacebang and Fausto was not yet Fausto, at a chance encounter at the UUCF table during the Boston GA. If Fausto's memory serves, they were introduced by Mike Doonesbury's pastor, who also happened to be standing around, and Peacebang later delivered a bang-up sermon at the same event.

Blogger fausto said...

"Wert" is indeed a word, by the way, though I think the formula is more traditionally expressed as, "Dust thou art", or, "Remember, man, that thou art dust".

And my understanding is that some variant of "Dust thou art" is the usual litany when you get dabbed on Ash Wednesday, along with a recital of Psalm 51 and lots of good penitential language. (You reading this, cc? If you still are looking for more penitential language, heck out the Ash Wednesday order of service in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.)

I wonder if that Methodist didn't change the litany only for you, Peacebang, you heretic Unitarian backslider. She probably figured that penitence is something you save until after you repent and believe the gospel.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Fausto's question made me the tiniest bit paranoid so I asked a friend about the "Repent and believe in the gospel!" comment. She assured me that that's a standard Ash Wed. blessing in the United Methodist liturgy.
Kewl. I am thinking of using it as a general greeting.
"Hello Peacebang, how are you?"
"Fine, thanks. Repent and believe in the gospel, George."
"Will do. All the best."

Blogger fausto said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger fausto said...

So, I checked out the 1982 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (the one with the liturgy in updated contemporary English), and it says:

"The ashes are imposed with the following words:

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Now the Piskies are half-Catholic, so that makes sense, but the Methodists were an offshoot of the Piskies, so how did the liturgical change come about? I'm guessing it's from the Methodists' tent-revival days. Which leads me to wonder whether the tent-revival Universalist side of our house celebrated Ash Wednesday, and if so, what they said.

I looked in a couple of old Unitarian service books and couldn't find anything. My guess would be that since the Unitarians were an offshoot of the Puritans they had long ago purged all that papist sacramental stuff (except baptism and communion), and saw no reason to revive Ash Wednesday just because their constipated Congregational brethren had stopped talking to them.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

This is a question for... THE BOY IN THE BANDS!!!

Oh B.I.T.B.? Care to comment?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott/bitb here:

I took you up on your challenge to answer.

See Did Universalists do Ash Wednesday?Lots of little tidbits to chew on.


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