Holy Days

Mercredi des Cendres

On my kitchen calendar, the holidays are listed in both French and English, and I was delighted to read Ash Wednesday also described as “Mercredi des Cendres.”

Wednesday of the Cinders is so evocative. It takes away old impressions of those people I didn’t know who had marks on their foreheads and suggests a humility that I don’t often take the time to experience. The cinders are what is left over when the fire goes out, when the work is done, and the people who bear them are the lowest and least.

As I commented on Preacher Mom’s blog, I grew up as a Southern Baptist, and I had no experience of Ash Wednesday. I think I’ve been to a total of five services, including three I have led myself. It wasn’t until yesterday that I got a sense of what it might mean to me.

Ash Wednesday gives us a chance to mark where we are on the journey of faith, to evaluate whether we like where we are headed and how we are getting there, to assess any need we might have for change. It allows us to acknowledge our brokenness and the burdens to heavy for us to carry, as we did in our service by choosing broken twigs (representing brokenness) and stones (representing burdens), which we laid on the worship center. Ritual is not empty. It holds the possibility of revelation if we choose to look for it. I suggested that we consider the act of being marked with ashes as a choice to view ourselves as marked for God. And with that mark in mind, to choose our fast.

I’ve been working on change, and I am painfully aware that real change comes from the inside. We have to address the traits or the circumstances that have made us likely to do the things, or to have the habits, that we feel are a stumbling block on the faith journey. On Wednesday of the Cinders, we perhaps take the time to we look inward and ask God to dwell with us in the darkness, and to travel with us as we journey to Jerusalem. Marked for God, we take the first steps.