You may already know how keen I am on the idea of getting up on Sunday morning and going to church just to be told what a lousy, sinning piece of crap I am. So why would I put myself through that in the middle of the week?
I did it for you, dear reader.
Ash Wednesday only comes once a year (thank God!) and it’s conveniently tucked in after Shrove Tuesday, a.k.a. Mardis Gras (Hallelujah!). It kicks off the 40-day lent period during which Catholics and members of a few other churches swear off something they hold near and dear. According to a quick Google search, it’s a personal sacrifice that could include (but is not limited to) taking a break from:
Coffee, Internet use, red meat, white meat, chocolate, saying the “F” word, doing the “F” word, cigarettes, shopping at Nordstrom, browsing the QVC channel, beer, thinking not-nice thoughts, reality TV, OK Cupid, heavy metal, heavy sarcasm, heavy petting, Facebook, Diet Coke, tortilla chips, Twitter and pancakes.
Why do this? Because Lent is a time for reflection and repentance from sin. (If you went to church, you’d already know this, sinner!) When you attend the Ash Wednesday service, the priest will even smudge a cross of black ashes on your forehead — a throw-back to the Bible-times practice of showing repentance by putting ashes on your head. You’re supposed to keep it there until it wears off, but with rain in the forecast, I decided to cut my penance short.
We attended the service at St. Mary’s Cathedral. And, yes, it was all about sin and kneeling before the Holy Word of The Lord whenever a snippet of scripture was read. But the choir was off-the-hook amazing. Humble repentance in pitch-perfect, four part harmony. It made me want to sin some more just so I could come back for some more forgiving hymns.
My gateway to learning about Ash Wednesday wasn’t through church, but, rather, T. S. Eliot. And, just for the helliot, I thought I’d share his poem, “Ash Wednesday,” which is his personal take on cessation from sin and materialistic striving. It has as much in common with the Buddhistic concept of Nirvana as it does with the precepts of the Anglican church, to which he’d converted when he wrote the damn thing.
Fans of the prophet Ezekiel or of blues spirituals might catch his reference to “Dem Dry Bones”; and if you’ve read 1 Kings 19:1–8 or the Grimm Brothers’ “The Juniper Tree,” you’ll get another one of Eliot’s trademark inside jokes.
“Ash Wednesday” weighs in at 1599 words, so pour yourself a cup of coffee (if you haven’t given it up for Lent). The closing lines are sort of well known, and they’re even better if you’ve read the poem from the beginning. If you prefer, you can even invite T. S. into your computer, where he can read the poem directly to you. Anyway, enjoy the poem and quit sinning, you crappy piece of crap!