Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ahses to Ashes, Part Deux

Ash Wednesday kinda snuck up on me this year.

And by "kinda," I mean "completely and totally."

Yes, I know this happened to me last year. However, this year there are a few things I credit for this lack of preparedness. The first is the fact that it was sooo dang early this year. According to the Wikipedia article, Ash Wednesday can occur no earlier than February 4th (the last time that has happened was in 1818). The 6th ain't too far after that, if you ask me. And the fact that its arranged based on the patterns of the moon...they're really not making any attempt to hide the pagan roots, are they?

Second reason: Being at a state-run school, they don't give much credence to things like Ash Wednesday. It was a lot more visible when we had school Mass for the day. It was even easier to remember because I was usually the one planning the Masses.

Third reason: I've been pretty preoccupied the last week or so, and so I've barely given any thought to what day it is, much less what holiday.

So, imagine the following conversation:
Me: "Hey, why are you wearing Mardi Gras beads?"
Co-Worker: "Because it's Mardi Gras."
Me: ".....Huh."

And that's how it was brought to the forefront of my mind (until the next morning, when I barely caught myself before eating an orange). The only meal I ended up having that day was a bottle of soy milk and a "tuna" sandwich. (I put it in parentheses because the tuna they used [it was a pre-made sandwich] was a weird consistency. A paste, almost; more fit for astronauts than for the average college student.

What I really wanted to make mention of, though, was the Ash Wednesday service that I went to. Due to a schedule that kept me busy from the time I woke up (which was, admittedly, 2.5 hours after I was supposed to) until 8 o'clock (I'll talk about some of these things later), I was forced to attend the service at 10pm at the ugliest church around, Newman Hall.

Now, one thing was pretty interesting. The lights were off in the church. I don't know if this was to save the environment or because they wanted to create a special mood of sorts, but at first I found it to be a little annoying. After all, I was planning on scoping out the place to see if there was someone I recognized, as the place was jam-packed with students. Alas, I couldn't, so I contented to find an open seat.

The place has its pros and cons. One example of a pro, for example, would be the music. For example, at this service they had some guy plucking away at a nice Spanish guitar. Cons would include the homily. The priest was just a little...well, he wasn't very riveting, I can tell you that.

In then end, though, there was one moment which really stood out to me about the whole Mass. And that was at the sign of peace. I was turning to shake my neighbor's hand, and when I looked at her face, all I could see was a smile. A warm and (from what I could tell) genuine smile. And she took my hand and said "Peace be with you." And at that moment, I had a "huh" moment. If you think about it, the whole ritual is pretty, for lack of a better word, nice. Think about it, you turn to someone you've never met before, a complete stranger, and you wish them peace in their life. You don't know what they've done or what they plan to do, and yet you tell them that you want them to be at peace. That's really nice.

It was also at that moment that I saw the (probably unintentional) beauty of the lights being as dim as they were. I still don't know what that person looked like. Her face was only a shadow. In a way, that was a good thing. No matter what we say to the contrary, we judge others, especially by looks. Often when you see someone, you are preoccupied with their looks (either their fashion virtues or faults) and forget about who's really there. The fact that I couldn't see any faces changed that. In a sense, everyone was equal in the shadows.

But what is really interesting (and symbolic, in a way) is that the only thing that can stand out in the darkness is a smile. That was the only part of that person's face I saw. Had her mouth been closed, I probably wouldn't have seen anything at all. But with a true sense of happiness and good will, I was able to see something; in a sense, the only thing that mattered.

Anyway, that made my day, even though it happened towards the end of it.

So, that was my day, and I...


What's that? What did I decide to do for Lent?

Well, um...I'm not sure yet.

That's not to say I'm not doing anything! It's just that I'm currently giving up things already as part of my diet change of lifestyle diet. For example, I'm currently abstaining from sweets, wheats, and mammal meats (that is, I still eat fish and bird). Now, this isn't hard and firm, and can get fudged around depending on the situation. If you'll notice, I ate a tuna sandwich (with wheat bread) on Ash Wednesday, but it seems to be a good system.

So what does this leave me with? Well, until I can think of something more specific, I guess I'll have to just say that I'll try to be a better person. And smile more in the dark. :)


Anonymous said...

Ah, the familiarities of church seem to be a much warmer memory than the reality I felt last time I went to an Ash Wednesday ceremony three years ago. It's kind of funny, for a good portion of my life, I never felt comfortable in church. It seemed much more like a social and academic obligation rather than a genuine connection with God. I actually felt closer to God by myself, enjoying a nice day than I have ever felt in a church. However, I recently went to a traditional Catholic baptism in Wilmington and it wasn't the religious part that I felt comfort in, but the community aspect of it. Eh, although my hard-liner approach against religion has softened up a bit as of recent, I still don't plan on participating in Lent or any other of the liturgical traditions. It’s my frequent remark that I have given up on giving up things for lent, much like my new year’s resolution is to not make a new year’s resolution. However, it was odd seeing some of my friends, colleagues and classmates with the smudge of ash on their foreheads on Wednesday. Although it created a nostalgic moment for me, it also gave me a stark revelation. Only a few years ago, I would've too had taken the ash on my forehead. I can remember the cool feeling of the wet ashes and the unusual sensation of it drying up. But I stand different than them, an outsider to the church by choice.

-Comrade Chavez

Anonymous said...

"It was even easier to remember because I was usually the one planning the Masses."

Then after you left, I planned them >_<. You know, I basically restarted the whole shebang, as I was the only one who seemed to remember what campus ministry was before, and I had to carry it on with almost 100% new people. Ash Wednesday mass was, well, I seem to have repressed the memory, but I'm sure I tried hard at it.

For lent this year, I'm becoming a *gasp* vegetarian, on rinoa's suggestion. Guess this will be an interesting 40 days.