On Distributing Ashes at the Train Station

Today I offered “ashes to go” at the White Plains train station.  It’s apparently controversial, but I’m letting others do the heavy theological lifting. I wanted to experience it before I reflected.

It was cold. Below freezing. We still haven’t gotten out of the polar vortex, which I think has decided that it’s very comfortable in its new digs and has decided it will never leave.  Besides, spring has gone fishing. Ice fishing.

At first, I stood outside the train station in my cassock and surplice for a bit, but once I found myself unable to move my hands, I entered the lobby across from the newspaper kiosk.  It was also cold. The doors kept opening as commuters rushed in.  To keep my hands warm, I’d rub them against each other as I held my little glass bowl full of burned palms. I would have rubbed them between my surplice and cossack, but I worried it would look vaguely illegal. So I kept my hands visible.

I stood still, as I didn’t want to be pushy, merely present.  Available to the seeker, but conveniently ignored by the apathetic, distracted, and irreligious. I didn’t want to raise anyone’s anxieties or hurt anyone’s feelings by being so enthusiastically a priest.

People said, “I heard about this.” Apparently the radio and papers found this fascinating. Press might be good. Look at those quirky Episcopalians, standing in the cold, offering dirt and telling people they’re all going to die.

“I didn’t know this was happening,” said another. This?

“Can you do this?” Am I allowed? Well, I won’t tell anyone if you won’t, I didn’t say. I have a license. Continue reading “On Distributing Ashes at the Train Station”

Ash Wednesday

On Ash Wednesday usually someone comes up to me and asks me why there is a smudge on my head.  Thinking I’ve not taken a shower, they try to figure out what it is, and then attempt to clean it off.  I should be thankful they noticed:  it would be worse if they didn’t.

Most of us want to be noticed.  Either by someone we like, our parents, our employer, or just strangers who can identify the various trinkets we adorn ourselves with.  We buy cars and obsess over reality TV.  We wear clothes that call attention to us.   We want to be seen.

Plenty of people used to go to church just to be noticed.  It’s not very much to ask for. There are plenty of things we do for no other reason than to be assured that we’re respectable and cool.  But when Jesus says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he’s practically saying, “who cares if you’re cool?  Maybe the cool people.  Or people who aren’t cool and want to be like you.”  What is noticed by Love is not always what we think gets noticed.

And yet it does.  But what are the rewards?  What are people working for?  Jesus identifies how easy it is for us to be moved by others; and instead asks us about what our private wishes are.   The challenge is for us to found our own power, without the anxieties that our class or status bring.

It may take work.  At least forty days.  We are so inundated with people trying to gather out attention, that it may take us making radical choices – choices that might not be easy to make.  To discover who we are and what we are meant to be might require sacrifices; it might require a little bit of discipline.   The purpose may not be to refrain for the sake of refraining, but rather to learn to pay attention better.

Perhaps once we’ve let go of our distractions we might notice our world differently – we might relearn how to see it.  Instead of being dull and overwhelming, the world will become enchanted and reliable.  Because we have given up the craziness of always being noticed, we ourselves will notice what glorious things are right in front of us.