Reflection on Ashes-to-Go
I just came in from distributing ashes at the Irving Park CTA station with the Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer and Barbara Cohn, another parishioner from St. John’s Episcopal Church. It was extremely cold, and I feel that some people who might otherwise have stopped were in a rush to get inside the station. Nevertheless, we served probably 30 or 40 people in the hour we were there.
Some people in the Episcopal Church take issue with the concept of Ashes To Go, feeling that it cheapens the faith and gives lazy folks an excuse to skip the solemn Ash Wednesday liturgy. Here is how I think about it:
On this one day in the year, you see people walking around in the business district of Chicago, the great trading post and mercantile hub of North America, putting their Christianity out in the open. Right on their foreheads, where it can’t be missed, they testify: I am a member of the Body of Christ, and I am wearing this reminder of my mortality for all to see.
It is a remarkable thing, to suddenly be aware that all these worker bees, hurrying to the office or to school or to the coffee shop, carry within themselves and profess a spiritual life that we are not normally privileged to witness. I’m not sure that people who work within the confines of the church grasp the impact of seeing this display in the midst of the commercial marketplace. When I worked in the Loop it always struck me profoundly.
At 7 a.m., people haven’t had the chance to go to church yet, to say the prayers and receive the ashes in the usual ceremonial fashion. But the people we met on Irving Park Road under the highway overpass, with the trains roaring overhead, the buses disgorging passengers next to us, and the pigeons flapping around, were available and eager to visibly express their Christianity from the very start of their day’s journey. They didn’t need the priest or the prayers or the liturgical ritual to declare: This is who I am; this is what I believe.
18 February, 2015