Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

"Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return" (cf. Gen 3:19)

Over the weekend, Mrs. Lee and I were discussing the curious and quite amazing fact that we were both life-long Christians, in our late twenties, college-educated (I, with a degree in Religious Studies), married, and parents three times over before we had any clue what Ash Wednesday was.  Yes, we had seen it arrive every year on our calendars for as long as we could remember, but we gave it little thought and assumed it was one of those minor, modern, manufactured "holidays" akin to Boxing Day, Secretaries Day, or Arbor Day.  In fact, I even remember thinking that it was probably a sub-holiday of Arbor Day -- meant for those with a particular devotion to the White Ash tree (Fraxinus americana - photo by Willow, Wikipedia).

We certainly had no inkling that Ash Wednesday was a Christian holy day dating from, at latest, the 8th century -- nor that many of our friends (both Protestant and, especially, Catholic) would be going to church on that day to receive ashes and thus begin the ancient pre-Easter period of penitence known as Lent.  I suppose our striking lack of such basic knowledge was emblematic of the a-historical bent of the American Evangelicalism in which we were reared.  Not that there weren't some powerful historical elements present in the faiths of our youth, but Christian history was rarely, if ever, mentioned or celebrated.  In any case, our family is now Catholic, we finally know what Ash Wednesday is, and it has become a treasured and anticipated day for all of us.

A very blessed Ash Wednesday and Lent to you all.

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