I have reached the stage in my Christian journey that once was unimaginable: Ash Wednesday has become part of my routine.
I clearly remember the days when attending Ash Wednesday worship felt like entering a foreign land. But this year, it is simply part of normal life. At least, it’s as normal as possible. How normal is it to place yourself deliberately in a situation where you are told that you will die?
It’s not normal. And that’s what I love about Ash Wednesday. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” is a wake-up call that never gets old. I know it’s true, but I go about my life as if I’ll be alive forever. I go about my life as if everyone I love best will be alive forever too.
I know better. In my college years, my family died like death was going out of style. My father died; my uncle died; my grandfather died; my step-grandfather died. In four years, I lost four of the closest members of my family.
This is also when I discovered religion, which is no coincidence. Being repeatedly slapped in the face by death made me wake up to the importance of a life that matters. But it took almost another twenty years for me to join the Episcopal Church, and for Ash Wednesday to become part of my normal routine.
Now that I am a parent, I go to Ash Wednesday differently. I take my children, as I have for years. It is one thing to accept that I am mortal; it is entirely different to accept that my children are mortal too. In all honesty, I can’t wrap my mind around that reality. But this is why I keep going back. Ash Wednesday still has lessons to teach me.
And that’s why we keep Ash Wednesday, and the whole church year: there is wisdom here that cannot be gained any other way. There is no secular equivalent to having ashes placed on your head and being reminded of your mortality. There is no secular equivalent to watching that happen for your children too. Only the church does this. We can tell the hard truth of death because we also tell the hard truth of resurrection.
These truths endure, generation after generation. That’s why I make my tween and teen go to Ash Wednesday worship. I let them skip youth group; I don’t make them go to church camp. But they are required to attend Ash Wednesday, Holy Week liturgies, and worship on (almost every) Sunday. They won’t live with me for long; I only have so much time to expose them to the wisdom passed down through the generations. And they need the church’s teaching just as much as I do.
The day will come when death slaps my kids in the face. One day, they will even be mourning me.
When that day comes, I want them to remember all our Ash Wednesdays. I want them already to know that Mom is mortal, but God is eternal.
I want them to remember that every week their parents brought them to a place where they said “Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.” I want them to remember that the love of God endures. And I want them to put God first in their lives, as their best hope to live a life that matters.
I cannot control whether Ash Wednesday is part of my children’s routine once they are away from home. But I can be sure that while they are with me, they hear about the mercy of God. They hear about penitence and forgiveness. They hear about eternal life.
In the end, neither my children nor I will endure. Hard as it is to accept, every soul with whom I observe Ash Wednesday will go down to the dust.
But the last word on Ash Wednesday is not the death of sinners; it is the proclamation of forgiveness. It is the prayer that we might enter into the eternal joy of our Lord.
That forgiveness and that hope endures, across every generation. Thanks be to God.
[Image credit: Public Domain via Pixabay.]
Do you take your children to Ash Wednesday worship? Why or why not?
Thank you for your clear message about the value and meaning of Lent. This year it seems more clear to me as I sort my “treasures” .
Pamela Lewis says
Thank you for this superb posting that tells us the powerful meaning of Ash Wednesday. Throughout the 40 days of Lent, I will keep your words in my mind and heart. May you and your family have a blessed and holy Lent.
Nurya Love Parish says
Pamela, I am so glad you found it meaningful. Thank you for your blessings on our Lent and for your encouragement.
The things that you wanted your children to learn while they are still at home resonated with me so much. My mother passed on Feb 25, 2013, the anniversary passed a few days ago and I didn’t much of it. It wasn’t until you described what you wanted to leave behind did I realize my mother did those things for me also and the tears came. She was a very pious, yet firm Jehovah’s witness. I left the faith at seventeen, wandered through humanism until 25, and found a home in the episcopal church for the last 14 years. Through it all the foundation she built for me saved my life. God bless you for helping me to remember what she gave freely to me.
Nurya Love Parish says
So glad this resonated with you. It is good to have a reason to hope that the lessons of mothers do really stick. Thanks for commenting.
Melissa Wilcox says
Powerful words in this day of childrearing where the child’s consumer wants are often elevated over their parents. I was ambivalent this morning about taking them because of homework, choir, etc. We will be there so we can know that they are mortal, but God is eternal. Thank you!
Grow Chrisitans is like a plumb line that helps to keep our center straight, shows us where we are off the mark, all the while giving us something concrete to re-orient to. Today’s post is just that. Ash Wednesday is that as well. Thank you sharing your journey with us Nurya, and for answering God’s call for you to “hang the plumb line” in the form of Grow Christians. A blessed and holy Lent to you, your family, and all your readers.
Nurya Love Parish says
I wasn’t expecting to be brought to tears reading comments today – I’m so grateful for your kind words! Thanks for commenting.