Christian tradition plus contemporary blender of self-expressive spirituality equals postmodern seeking
Though I think and write about religion, I am not particularly devout. I can accept faith as a way of seeing. But I struggle with faith as a set of theological propositions requiring intellectual assent.
Why, then, do I seek out a church on Ash Wednesday, but rarely on Sundays?
I think the answer has to do with the radical and disorienting nature of the observance.
To the degree that sin is even a relevant cultural category at all, it is almost completely subjective. And sin, if it even exists, is something other people do.
Yet the Ash Wednesday liturgy recalls memorable lines from Psalm 51: “My sin is ever before me.”
It feels strange to recall my own sins and the manifold social evils in which I am complicit. Is there something rebellious and wicked in my very nature? On Ash Wednesday, I am forced to confront those parts of my self.
Many Catholics and liturgical Protestants attend services in the morning or at noon. The ashen crosses on their foreheads bear silent but compelling witness to their faith.
In secular Washington, D.C., a town obsessed with power and status, the ashes are welcome reminders that many people still lead quiet lives of devotion. Ultimately, they acknowledge, they have no power over nature. Ultimately, they are dust.