I miss the Franscian Catholic church I grew accustomed to going to each Ash Wednesday when I worked downtown. Droves of Catholics, some who only made an appearance on days of obligaition like Ash Wednesday, stood shoulder to shoulder in a line down the street. There was no long Mass to sit through, making you perilously late for work — just lines that led into the church basement where the two great lines broke into six smaller lines. At the front, a Franscican priest in a plain brown cassok would hurriedly place the ashen smudge on your forehead, muttering the usual "Remember, from ashes you were formed, and to ashes you will return." You could almost hear the implied "NEXT!" as the people flowed through the room, as on a conveyor belt.
This Lent, I went to my parish church and sat through the long mass that the school children attend. Attending children's masses is always a charming experience, and I'm always amazed at how captivated the children are by our effective priest. He really communicates the simple gospel message in way that children can appreciate. So different from my childhood experience.
Postmodernist that I am, I search to see the broader symbolism. The ashes are placed on the third eye, the window to the soul in Hindu practice, as the priest urges us to enter our "inner room." Life has gotten hectic, overwhelming even. It is time to refocus, redouble our efforts, examine what drives us, what motivates us. For me, I am always forced to abandon my thought and behavor patterns that are not wholesome, and remember to do all that I do lovingly. I've been stressed, and it's so easy to lash out like a wounded animal at those that inspire my wrath. But I stop myself, I refocus, I pray. I send out love to those that need it most -- those far more wounded than I. And in the Spring, perhaps we will all be born anew.