Yesterday was Ash Wednesday – not just March 1 – which begins the season of Lent – not spring. The Christian Faith, like all others has seasons which remind of us of both of the mutability of life and its continuity.
The night before some of us gathered to horse around wearing beads, eating pancakes, sausages and bacon – the tradition being that you use up all the fat in the household before austerity begins – hence the name Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday. Then we went outside and burnt up dried up palm leaves – they always make a good show. “Is it legal to have a fire in the middle of a lawn?” asked one young participant. The answer was “Shsh”.
The next day some of us joined our rector on a busy street corner offering “Ashes to Go” to people who might or might not have any memory of this tradition. One person asked in advance whether we were to actively recruit people and we were clear that we were not the usual street evangelists. What was surprising was how many people stopped to have a cross imprinted on their foreheads and didn’t just pass us by.
Seasons are good – especially in cities where the landscape doesn’t show the changes in nature as well as in rural areas. They remind us that it isn’t all about us. Sometimes the penitential ones lead to decisions to get off Facebook, or pray more or eat less, or give up smoking. These might be good for us – but simply remembering that we are not in charge might be enough.