Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thoughts on Ash Wednesday

I went on a tour of George Washington Law School today, but as I often do I got there way too early (OCD tendency of mine: fear of being late). I noticed, though, a church across the street from the admissions building. I walked in and sat in the back and read from Romans 9, where I had read the night before, though the NRSV translation they used in this church was a bit plainer in places. The pastor came back and asked if I would like to receive ashes. After asking what exactly that meant and his explanation, I said I would love to.

The pastor read excerpts from the sermon on the mount (again, I love modern translations sometimes) and a few other passages about forsaking sin and our need for a Savior. He talked about how we need to prepare for Easter; if we just walk in Easter Sunday to the joyful church building celebrating Christ's resurrection without having meditated on his death and sacrifice beforehand, we will have missed something. He described Lent as a journey towards Easter in beautiful words. He also talked about how the Resurrection is a challenging concept that we should grapple with. It does not make sense for all of us who were born and die. It transcends logic and intuition.

As he put an cross of ash on my forehead he repeated the words of Genesis: "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return" and enjoined me to remember my baptism "and be glad." It was a lovely ritual.

As I took the tour of GW and walked back to the metro, I saw a handful of other people with ash smudges on their forehead. As Mormons, we generally wear our religion privately, but it felt interesting to be openly and easily identified as a Christian at first glance, reminding me in a way of Jews wearing a yarmulke or Muslim women a covering of some kind. It felt strange at first to be so open (this coming from a guy who spent 2 years trying to convince pretty much everyone he met to be Mormon!) about religion, I don't really know why. But I liked it.

There is a term known as 'holy envy,' coined by Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl (and according to that wikipedia page it came about when he was defending the LDS Church's right to build a temple in Stockholm!), which I think is a great idea. To me it means that, while remaining committed to your own faith and religion, you can look at and enjoy and, on some non-sinful level, be envious of the traditions and rituals and doctrines of other churches or philosophies. That is how I feel about Ash Wednesday. I don't think there are any reasons why we as Mormons don't commemorate it other than simple cultural ones, and it was fascinating and edifying to participate in another church's remembrance of it. I felt a little bit more connected to the larger Christian world knowing that thousands and thousands of other people were doing the same thing today. I'm glad I was early and stumbled onto the chance to finally take part in this wonderful tradition.

It's a beautiful day today to confess your sins to God and remember the sacrifice of Jesus for each of us.


  1. Hey that's cool thanks for sharing.

  2. Wow Austin. That was a great post! I took a World Religion's class last semester and I had "holy envy" everyday! Every religion has so much to offer, so much beauty and truth! It's nice to take a minute and appreciate different religions and the truths that they espouse. Thanks for sharing!