As I took my seat at the start of Ancient Political Philosophy, Abby smiled and opened her mouth to say something. I expected her to comment on the book in my hand (I like to read on my way to class), but instead she made a brushing motion on her forehead and said, “You know you have—is that for—?”
“For Ash Wednesday? Yeah,” I said, realizing she was looking at the sooty mark on my forehead.
Three hours before, I had knelt at an altar rail while an Episcopalian priest crossed my forehead with ashes, saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We followed this solemn reminder of our mortality with a reading of Psalm 51 and a time for silent, prayerful meditation.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, a time for alms-giving, prayer, and fasting in preparation for Easter. These habits are meant to be continued throughout the year. Lent allows us to really examine ourselves for forty days, and discover how much more we can give, pray, and surrender.
I recently wrote a post about procrastination. We let our anxiety delay our action and we break free by surrendering our daunting tasks to God. That’s especially true of spiritual procrastination, when the action is going to God and the anxiety is what He will say. Rather than run away, we let our schedules get in the way. Work, play, and noise fill our lives. Days pass, weeks pass. We mean to draw nearer to Him—tomorrow.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Eventually, we run out of tomorrows. Lent interrupts the busy, worldly year. Its solemnity helps us be still. Its silence opens our ears.
The ashes on my forehead wore off, but that silent time with God pervaded my day; its peace never fully left. It will be another 365 days before I get more ashes on my forehead, but the peace is always available.