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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Nice Ash

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Growing up, Ash Wednesday meant attending mass and having a priest impress the ashes of palm fronds on my forehead in the shape of a cross. In my northside Chicago neighborhood, where almost everyone who wasn’t black or Jewish was Catholic, walking around with a smudgy cross on your forehead on Ash Wednesday was fairly common and no big deal. But when my family moved up to a small, predominantly Protestant town in Wisconsin, I began to notice that “Christian” and “Catholic” were far from synonymous. I also began to feel a little weird walking around with a dirty forehead on Ash Wednesday.

Our move to Wisconsin coincided with the onset of full-on adolescence and an attendant upspike in my self-consciousness. I began to have very unlentlike feelings as I sat in mass on Ash Wednesday, feelings that would be more accurately described as vain. Please God, let him draw a decent cross on my forehead. Amen. To me, there was something potentially attractive about a thin trace of ashes clearly discernable as a cross. However, most priests and deacons have big thumbs and few seem to have the artistic talent and patience that a really good ash-cross-drawn-on-forehead-with-thumb requires. So rather than a cruciform brushstroke that might make a teenage boy say “Wow, you make devotion look so… attractive,” you get a greasy smudge right in the center of your t-zone that might make a teenage boy say “Hey, dork, you have dirt on your face.”

I didn’t attend mass today. My complex love/hate relationship with Catholicism is something best gone into over a few beers when you have at least a couple hours to spare. But as I walk around, I notice that I’m judging the forehead of the occasional ash-wearer I see on strictly aesthetic grounds. Too bad, kid. That ash looks like the work of a muddy puppy... or Oh, man. You got a nice one. I might’ve gone to mass today if I could've gotten some good ash like that.

And now, I must look heavenward and apologize to both of my beloved grandmothers. I hope they understand. But if not, at least I know they're praying for me.


Blogger jpn said...

Speaking as one who knew both of your beloved grandmothers quite well, I think I can assure you that they understand completely, especially given their current vantage point....

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not Catholic anymore, but I remember Ash Wednesday vividly. Our priest wasn't able to place his thumb on our foreheads without also placing his fingers on top of our heads so hard that our brows would crease resulting in a broken ash cross.

5:03 PM  
Blogger naive-no-more said...

Not sure why, but I accidentally posted as anonymous. It was me!

8:30 PM  
Blogger mellanman said...

Being a reformed Catholic myself, I can sympathize with your distinction between "Christian" and "Catholic". I also agree with the need for a few hours and a number of beers to properly express myslef regarding my own transition away from that particular sect of religion. Ash Wednesda's not so big here in Atlanta, at least not that I've seen, so not too many "ash-heads" wealking around here.

9:19 AM  
Blogger E. said...

"especially given their current vantage point..." Well put. I do assume that the heavenly point of view makes the grandmas see the big picture more even than they did in life.

Hell yeah, Naive, I remember priests who used the old fingers-on-head technique. Always an interesting sensation.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Mona Buonanotte said...

I'm non-churchy as an adult, but grew up Lutheran. For some reason, Lutherans and Catholics are like Spy Vs. least from a Lutheran standpoint. WTF? Don't they pray to the same god? Yeah, this will make a good blog rant someday.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one privately critiquing people's ash crosses. I had a student come in wtih a very elaborate one the other day - it clearly wasn't ash but something more like a stick-on tattoo. I really wanted to ask her about it, but couldn't quite think of an appropriate way to do so...

6:16 AM  
Blogger tom said...

ex-actly, ye olde wise oral hygiene queen. i ranted also:

3:40 PM  

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