I've been thinking all evening about the ashes on my forehead. Well, not all evening, because at times I have completely forgotten about them. But that forgetting is a way of thinking. After they were put on my forehead at church, I really didn't think too much of it until I was in the restroom after the service. I looked in the mirror and saw them--a dark, smudged cross, and I was reminded there was something different about today; there was something different about me celebrating this day. I left, and promptly forgot about them again. I arrived at Bible Study, and a friend said, "oh, you went to the service tonight". For a second I wondered how he knew that, and then I remembered--my ashes. It got me to thinking about marks or symbols of belonging. In her book Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner writes about the boldness of ashes, that they are "a bold proclamation of death and resurrection all at once", that this cross on our foreheads is not a "polite, small slice of silver dangling around [her] nceck but easily slipped behind [her] blouse. The ash cross is bold, and undeniable" (121).
When I first read those words, I thought, "yeah, so?" But I think I understand them now, even after only having worn the ashes for a few hours. It's a mark that is undeniable. It is there for all to see. It is there for the one wearing it to see. There are some people who probably think symbols or traditional things such as this are outdated and irrelevant to living a Christian life today. But are they? How many other days does a Christian look in the mirror and immediately remember that he or she is a Christian? Or is it something that is set aside, forgotten, like when I forgot my ashes were there?
It's easy to go through daily life forgetting about faith. It is easy to go through daily life without a distinction of who we are. But today is different. Today we are reminded of who we are when we are told there's dirt on our face, or people look at us in a funny way when we go to the store, or we simply look in the mirror.
I think it's the mirror that is the most important. In that mirror, we can remind ourselves who we are. We can be think about what this means to us, what our faith means to us. We can, at the very least, have some time of introspection that we may not set aside any other day of the year.
And so this season of prayer, this season of repentance, begins with a simple act of boldness, a simple, silent proclamation to all who see us. And in that simplicity we can find multitudes of meaning.