Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ashes to Ashes

She presses her thumb gently against my forehead making the sign of the cross.

Turn away from your sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

The words hit me like an unexpected gust of wind. Refreshing, but it takes my breath away. This is what I'm doing here. Here, in this cathedral after having shed Catholicism like an old skin. Snakes grow but their skin doesn't. The religion of my childhood felt tight and dry so I abandoned it years ago. Well, almost. I still feel it in my bones.

I look around at the sea of faces smudged with oil and ash. I see that I am one of many, not terminally unique as I had once feared. We are all broken, and in this sacred place we gather together to acknowledge our shortcomings.

We flock to mass on Ash Wednesday, practicing or not, we receive our ashes and return to our errands or offices bearing the mark of our humanity. Many parishes will have received their highest attendance of the year today; higher than Christmas or even Easter. What is it about those ashes that draws so many close to the body of Christ?

I'm not sure I can explain it but I think I know.


jss said...

"Snakes grow but their skin doesn't". This is a great line. How very appropriate.

I am the same way. For a number of years I went searching for another church. I attended several, all of them not Catholic. That wasn't an option for me at the time, wasn't where I belonged, they had it all wrong. I didn't know what was 'right' but I knew that the Catholic Church wasn't it.

Yet the whole time I sat in other churches listening and watching other people something nagged at me, a feeling that I could not quite put my finger on. Finally after those several years of going to churches of other demoninations I dared to step foot back in the Catholic Church of my youth and in that instant I felt like I had come back home. The sound of the choir and the smell of the incense, the architecture and stained glass and the solemnity of the service. I knew in that instant that if church was going to be part of my life than that Catholic Church was where I belonged.

I've learned that I can deal with the fact that I frequently don't agree with the message but rather it is more about being in that place and the inner workings of myself that it sets in motion.

Michelle said...

Oh yes, there is nothing that compares to the atmosphere of the Catholic cathedrals and the familiar traditions. It just feels sacred.

I enjoy the community of the people I spend most Sundays with, but when I really want time with just me and God in a quiet space, I find my way to an old Catholic church!

chesha said...

Michelle, this is beautiful. Evocative. I'm speechless, but you've moved me.

Michelle said...

Aw, thanks. It's alwayas a powerful experience for me!