When we remember our own brokenness and death and receive ashes on our foreheads, we should be doing so in the open air, not in the recesses of some church building.
That’s Lauren Winner’s latest wild and crazy idea, and I like it. (You can read Winner’s full article, “Why Ash Wednesday Belongs Out of the Church and Out on the Streets,” which appeared yesterday, on Sojourners Magazine’s “God’s Politics Blog”).
Winner is actually not the first to come up with this idea. An Episcopal church in Amesbury, New Hampshire recently began an “Ashes to Go” ministry, with a view to taking ashes out to busy commuters who can’t make it in for a church service.
Which has me thinking again. (The visual image is one of consternated wrinkles on the forehead.) Why is the intentionally public statement of ashes on the forehead marking the start of Lent such a one-time occurrence in the church calendar? Why, for instance, are Lenten disciplines so often restricted to private ascetical practice, like forgoing sweets or alcohol, or taking on a new discipline, like more devotional time? What would happen if Lenten habits, much like ashes on a forehead, became a way of making a very public statement about God’s love in Jesus Christ? What would this look like for us individually and as church communities?
I’m not sure wearing “What would Jesus do?” bracelets is the answer here. I’m pretty sure that showing up at gay pride festivals or funerals of fallen soldiers with a fire and brimstone message isn’t, either. I’m not even sure whether devoting a little extra time at the soup kitchen is the best expression of our neediness before God and God’s saving love for us.
Friend John Spalding quipped on Facebook that this Lent he “gave up giving up things for Lent.” I can sympathize with his sentiments. I’ve often set out with the best intentions of cultivating a Lenten practice, such as practicing patience (which involved wearing a bracelet that read “patience” one year) or giving up sugar, only to find that, in the same vein as New Year’s resolutions, my aspirations sputtered out somewhere in the middle of that long wilderness of forty days. I guess in the end I’m really not that spiritual.
But what if there were more of an intentionally public dimension to Lent? What if there were, for that matter, an “open-air” quality to how we as Christians describe human beings’ brokenness and proclaim God’s redemption not just in Lent but throughout the year? Getting outside our church buildings would be a start.
Got ideas? Leave them here. I want to hear your thoughts!