A Problem of Ashes

I’ve never understood Lent.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t necessarily the first kid in the church every Sunday. I thought church was kind of lame because it was an hour of being quiet, sitting still and listening to somebody talk about some guy who lived in Heaven. (I used to have a pretty crazy picture of God in my head, but I’ll save that for a later post…)

Now, if I didn’t understand why we gathered together every Sunday, then I certainly didn’t understand why one Wednesday a year, we would go to an extra service to get ashes put on our forehead. It sounds weird. And, let’s face it, it is weird. And I think I’ve pin-pointed why it’s so weird to me:

Ash Wednesday is about trauma.

Serene Jones defines trauma as any threat, perceived or real, that brings you next to your annihilation. Isn’t that exactly what Ash Wednesday is? The words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” bring us right next to the fact that we are impermanent. Ash Wednesday, then, sets into action the slow and agonizing descent into our own suffering. It introduces us into a life that is filled with the trauma of knowing we are not meant to stay here. It’s the trauma of knowing this is not our home.

Our Lenten depravations are not a way of purifying ourselves so that we can face the horror of the cross. Giving up soda, candy or Facebook isn’t going to help us identify with the depravity of the crucifixion. But they are there to remind us of who we are, broken people living in a broken world. Ash Wednesday traumatizes us because it snaps us back to the reality that we often deny with the way we live the rest of our year. We consume as if we’ll live forever, but Ash Wednesday stands fundamentally opposed to all earthly messages we are inundated with. The iPad 2 will not stop you from turning to dust (although the iPad 3 may). And the whiplash that we feel is because today sends us into a season of repentance.

We need Lent. We need absence before we can know fulfillment. We need trauma before we can know healing. We need the cross before we can know resurrection.



  1. amen.
    well said, sir.

  2. Good comments Eric…Ash Wednesday does make us think….and from Good Friday to Easter Sunday..the uncertainess can be frightening. Faith will carry us through. Keep the thoughts coming!

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